IN THE DRAB OF WINTER, poised between presidents and teetering on the edge of a financial abyss, who can afford to be afraid of the red, yellow, and blue? Certainly not Imi Knoebel. This onetime monochrome minimalist began the uncertain 2009 season in Chelsea last Thursday by attracting some of the more vivid art-world personalities to his opening at Mary Boone. Julian Schnabel, in bright yellow scarf and tinted glasses, was quick to anoint Knoebel’s primary-colored paintings on aluminum panels as modern altarpieces. A rosy Matthew Barney and Björk had daughter Isadora in tow, under a pink knit rabbit cap. Red-headed Dia director Philippe Vergne was dressed in optimism—the new armor under Obama—and spoke of his mission this week to save Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty from contamination by oil companies planning to drill into Utah’s Great Salt Lake. “We’re going to win,” he said. I believe him.
Outside in the blustery streets, intrepid gallery-goers bent into the wind as they tumbled toward DJ Spooky/Paul Miller’s debut at Robert Miller, where he was showing a sampler of videos, prints, and posters derived from a trip to Antarctica to capture the sound of ice. “My laptop is my studio,” he explained. Miller was talking fast, and soon I knew why: He had just come from Zanzibar and was a full day ahead of the rest of us. Slipping out of his wake, I sped by Richard Aldrich’s first New York solo show, at Bortolami, which was worth a closer look, and Janet Biggs’s video at Claire Oliver, which is all about obsessive people transcending their limits.
Visiting Robert Barry’s exhibition at Yvon Lambert, I spied a text work in the window that read SOMETHING ONLY YOU CAN REALIZE. So it’s up to us, is it? All I knew was that I couldn’t make it uptown in time for Alex Bag’s opening at the Whitney if I was going to get to SoHo in time for the Louis Vuitton “tribute” to the late fashion designer Stephen Sprouse at Deitch Projects. What to do? Art or fashion? Fashion or art? I stayed downtown, where the line between is too thin to make a difference.
Bouncers kept minions of gallery-goers huddled behind velvet ropes set up for “Rock on Mars,” the exhibition of Sprouse’s wildly Day-Glo graffiti-printed clothes for men and women (as if anyone there would insist on gender specificity). For newbies slow to realize how deep into cool they had stepped, the show included silver paintings, suspended by white chains from the gallery rafters, of a nearly naked Iggy Pop as a crucified Jesus. “Iggy actually came to Stephen’s studio to pose for that,” Deitch said, identifying the bright orange, ZAP-POW patterned silk pajama suit on a nearby mannequin as the property of artist Kenny Scharf.
We heard whispers of famous faces that bouncers would not let in. Maurizio Cattelan was more accommodating. “Let’s find you some celebrities!” he said, cheerfully picking his way through a crowd that included art beauty Alba Clemente, performers Casey Spooner and Adam Dugas (in sexy fleece pajama suits), artists Terence Koh and Kembra Pfahler, MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, dealer Andrea Rosen (one of the few dressed in vintage Sprouse), architect Peter Marino (in leathers), and supermodel Agyness Deyn. “Where is Donatella?” Cattelan bellowed. He’s a funny guy.
I looked for Marc Jacobs, who had just unveiled his new Sprouse-inspired line around the corner at the Vuitton store and was nominally the host of this evening, which also celebrated a thick Sprouse monograph packaged—instead of published—by the Padilha brothers, Roger and Mauricio, fashion publicists. They were there, but no Jacobs, who had already moved on to the afterparty at Bowery Ballroom. Instead, I found designer Anna Sui. Admiring the hot-pink wig on the large drag clown heading to the black-light room below a bevy of stylists, photographers, makeup people, and Paper-magazine editors, I had to ask, “Is this an art-world party or a fashion party?” “It’s a pupu platter,” Sui observed. “No difference.”
Hired yellow cabs topped with light-box WELOVESPROUSE.COM ads ferried guests to the Delancey Street club, where an even larger copse of pupu people was corralled between roped corridors on the street. “Come on,” said a man who sidled up to the door. “Gene Pressman,” he said. “From Barney’s?” Fashion has its privileges. But art has more staying power. I stood my ground and was waved inside just in time to catch Deborah Harry, wearing purple and black Sprouse, give full throat to “Rip Her to Shreds,” one of three Blondie songs she sang to recorded music in a spirited performance. It felt very Mudd Club in there. Maybe it was the music; or maybe it was the presence of Annie Flanders, founding editor of Details when it was the chronicle of downtown society; or maybe it was onetime fashion muse Edwige Belmore downing Champagne in yellow silk Sprouse trousers. “We were just so awesome,” she marveled. Aren’t we still?
“This is the new way to do an exhibition,” Deitch said, pointing to the pink neon Vuitton signs and slick videos of Sprouse and his kick-ass runway shows. The marketing way? “These people are going to roll this show out in cities all over,” he said. “They really know how to get the word out.” And the bucks.
Back on Wooster Street Friday night, I stopped into the Art Production Fund’s storefront lab for the debut of the reality TV show Delusional Downtown Divas, an art-world spoof by art-world offspring Lena Dunham, whose parents are Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham. (The show itself is a commission from newly revived Index magazine.) I had to elbow my way between dealer Barbara Gladstone, Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, and novelist A. M. Homes just to get some standing room. Nate Lowman was on-screen, playing himself during a studio visit with Dunham, acting the part of an art-star wannabe eager to jump-start a career. What could she be thinking?
From there it was just east of the sun and west of the moon to reach the Park Avenue Armory for a workshop production of Last Dance, hosted by theater director Brennan Gerard and choreographer Ryan Kelly’s Moving Theater. In a fourth-floor room, three dancers, one of them just crazy enough to seem dangerous, took turns limning the last moments of their virginity or their last day of school or their last supper with a parent, when suddenly a tall, bearded man seated in the folding chair beside architect Charles Renfro started singing the show’s title song, by disco diva Donna Summer, in the most pristine countertenor voice imaginable. Remember this name: Jason Abrams. He is going to be big.
Saturday night brought snow to New York and that color genius Mary Heilmann to both 303 Gallery locations. One was a show of brilliant new paintings and the other a group show curated by Heilmann featuring younger artists from the personal cult she has fostered with an unusual degree of affection. Paula Cooper brought curator Bob Nickas back to her temple with another of his thematic group exhibitions. Though titled “Every Revolution Is a Roll of the Dice,” he had left little to chance. “I think it’s all about form and balance,” ventured John Miller, whose gold-leafed plastic knights and weapons sit on Carol Bove’s carpet of peacock feathers. Louise Lawler contributed an unfamiliar 1993 text work painted on a wall by the reception desk. It read: ONCE THERE WAS A LITTLE BOY AND EVERYTHING TURNED OUT ALRIGHT. The End.
Which always puts us back at the beginning.