It’s not easy to turn heads in an art world that demands attention from every possible direction. When as many galleries as possible stage openings on the same night in wildly different parts of town—as happened in pre-auction-week Manhattan last Thursday—craning necks start to feel pain. Where to look first, and at whom? In Chelsea, Marianne Boesky offered two discoveries: a formerly neglected, deceased American Abstract Pop artist, Nicholas Krushenick; and a long, tall, charming Glaswegian named Tony Swain, whose landscape paintings on newsprint were pressed into project-room service at the urging of Boesky consultant Clarissa Dalrymple. Swain wasn’t staying long. Like any young bet-hedging artist, he plays guitar in a band, Hassle Hound, and they have European gigs lined up.
Down the street at Gagosian, Glenn Brown’s woozy portraits of old paintings were on the walls, Walter De Maria poles were on the floor, and Irving Blum was checking out the merchandise. In town as a spectator to “the sales,” as he put it, the man who has made out like a bandit in recent years by selling choice Warhol silk-screen paintings (a torn soup can, a Marilyn) expressed some consternation over Sotheby’s forty-million-dollar estimate. That meant ninety million, I reckoned. “I don’t know,” he said, nodding and shaking his head at the same time. “Interesting, no?”
More rubbernecking was going on at Lehmann Maupin, where the Japanese artist known as Mr. was performing for his New York gallery debut. When I arrived, he was crawling around on the sidewalk dressed in a panda suit, the large head mounted on his rear end, a white plastic bag on his own lowered head, and his hands shod in panda-feet gloves. “We have leash laws in this town, you know,” Jerry Saltz warned dealer Tim Blum, who pretended not to hear. Children in attendance, Cynthia Rowley’s dressed-alike daughters, for instance, were quite taken with the whole scene.
Across the street, another crowd was spilling out of James Cohan. It included Bill Viola, whose new slo-mo video was premiering inside while Viola hobnobbed outside, accompanied by David Ross on cell phone. I hot-footed it over to Matthew Marks, where Andreas Gursky, holding court among several Museum of Modern Art curators (including Peter Galassi and Klaus Biesenbach), grabbed my camera and took my picture—it was really lousy! (I'm keeping it anyway, in case it might be worth something, someday, at “the sales.”)
Racing to SoHo, where Jeffrey Deitch was unveiling Francesco Clemente’s earliest work on paper (ink drawings, photos, collages), I found Alba Clemente standing near four blurred re-photographs of sexy women taken from magazines. “That's were we met—between here and here,” she said, pointing with pride to a narrow slit between two of the photos. In the front room, artists Donald Baechler and Philip Taaffe were admiring an exquisite series of brushed-ink drawings. “I used to throw them on the floor of my studio,” Francesco said. “For people to walk on.” How time changes things!
Not many people entertain with as keen an eye for spectacle as Deitch. Behind the diaphanous sari-fabric veils and trails of navel oranges at his Wooster Street space, dinner was an elaborate, Indian-themed affair for 175 of what used to be known as the Beautiful People. They included designers Diane von Furstenberg, Bill Katz (direct from Mary Boone Chelsea, where he was hanging Clemente’s other show this week: a group of commissioned portraits), Fran Lebowitz, Jacqueline Schnabel, socialite Ann Dexter-Jones, artists Terry Winters and Chris Johansen, and TV personality Charlie Rose, whom I introduced to Casey Spooner, one half of the musical duo Fischerspooner. Together we learned how Rose maintains his cool while interviewing so many different people on so many nights of the week. “Easy,” he said. “You drink—a lot.” Spooner feigned shock. “Before the show?” he asked. “No!” Rose said. “After!” (And, apparently, way after.)
At dinner (from Salaam Bombay), I could only marvel at my fate: To my left sat MoMA trustee Barbara Jakobson, with collector-philanthropists Raymond Learsy and Melva Bucksbaum. Directly across was ARTCO founder Cary Leitzes, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, and Deitch. On my right, a tall man in a tropical vanilla suit sat down and put out his hand. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Michael Stipe, and I sing with a band called R.E.M.” Amusant, no?
Ever wonder what near strangers talk about to fill the hours it takes to get through a big art-world dinner? That’s right: themselves! Oh yes, and art. With a tabla and flute duo providing background music, Jakobson spoke of the highs and lows of collecting and deaccessioning—or “clearing out”—contemporary works. She also described her first sight of Deitch—when he came to see her collection with his college class. (She picked him for genius even then.) Leitzes described the development of her art-for-product limited editions. These include her (sold-out) Le Sportsac commission by assume vivid astro focus (whose solo show at John Connelly also opened that night). Not exactly a Murakami Vuitton, but getting there. And Stipe, for his part, regaled me with a story of a post-Soviet R.E.M. tour of Estonia, where one man, pegging Stipe for an American, had a message of appreciation—for Michael Jackson. “I do love my job,” said Stipe.
A moment later, the tabla player/DJ Karsh Kale began a solo dance with his drum balanced between his knees—captivating, in a sideshow kind of way—and just as I was thinking that all we needed now was a bevy of harem dancers, on came Surati Inc., four midriff-baring, sari-clad women who spun around the platform stage, clicking finger cymbals and smiling. And how often does that happen? “Every night,” said Terry Winters. “In my dreams.”