Scene & Herd

Gift Rap

New York

Left: Dealer Yvon Lambert, artist Richard Jackson, and Yvon Lambert director Olivier Belot. Right: Marina Abramovic. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Ladies and gentlemen: The limited-edition goodie bag has arrived. At least, that's how it seemed on two consecutive party nights last weekend, when after-dinner art swag was nearly as rich as the money behind it.

First, on Friday night, at the dinner celebrating Franco-American gallerist Yvon Lambert’s capitulation to Chelsea colossalism, wooden-tray-bearing waiters surprised the guests by serving signed and numbered rubber duckies with dessert. The squishy yellow multiple, decked out in a green military helmet and a big paper neck-tag ID, commemorated California artist Richard Jackson’s inaugural exhibition at both the old-school and the newly cool Richard Gluckman–designed Lambert space, in the formerly cool Lot 61. (The ancien cuisine dinner of beef tournedos, however, was held in a rented recording studio down the street.)

For “The War Room,” in the big new gallery, Jackson installed a folded-up Bucky Fuller Dymaxion Map but substituted for the usual skin a reproduction of a Jasper Johns map painting of the world. (The original is in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.) Human-size ducks armed with strategically placed air-pressurized tubes surrounded the canvas and, apparently, had ejaculated multicolored paint before the reception. I heard there was paint all over the ground, but I never saw the floor—too many people on it. This was a very Franco-Latino-Brooklyn crowd and included the entire roster of artists affiliated with Lambert’s New York branch: Joan Jonas, Kay Rosen, Anna Gaskell, and so forth, along with newbie painter Melvin Martinez, seated at my table beside Isabel (de la Cruz) Ernst. Her mother, Rosa de la Cruz, who was also there, is—surprise!—building her own museum in Miami, near her nonprofit Moore Space, and using an interior decorator as her architect. Architects don’t understand art, she said, I think. Unfortunately, Gluckman was not nearby.

On the way out, we were all given a slim exhibition catalog signed by Jackson. But this modest volume, even with the ducky, was only a harbinger of greater things to come on Saturday night, when Marina Abramovic celebrated her sixtieth birthday with a black-tie dinner at the Guggenheim. The booty there included the latest addition to the Illy Art Collection of coffee cups: A hefty Abramovic picture-mug. Another gift was the decidedly mixed pleasure of being first to see Seven Easy Pieces, the film that Babette Mangolte has distilled from Abramovic's weeklong residency at the Guggenheim during PERFORMA05, Roselee Goldberg’s first biennial of performance art. The final goodie of the all-Marina-all-the-time evening, which was really its own reward, was a catalogue—unsigned—from Charta, of—what else?—Seven Easy Pieces.

Left: David Byrne with Cindy Sherman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Björk and Antony. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

Cutting forty-nine hours of live footage to a reasonable length can't be easy, but Mangolte's film, ninety-two minutes of extreme close-ups showing Abramovic in self-inflicted agony, captures little of the rousing live experience. Of course, back then, audience members were free to leave anytime. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such nihilism combined with such narcissism,” said Pat Steir, when the lights came up. Personally, I was wishing they had opened the bar before the screening—and I am not a drinker.

Never take anything too literally in the art world, I always say, particularly the term black tie. Matthew Barney, for instance, merely donned a black T-shirt under his dark blue suit and still looked pretty suave. Abramovic, who scripted the entire evening within an inch of its Serbian life, had instructed the women to be “outrageously elegant,” and they eagerly submitted, most with more elegance than outrage. For her part, Abramovic wore a blue dress created for her by Givenchy, though she chose her own accessories: cheap plastic Halloween-skeleton earrings, one black, one white. The best outfit, though, probably belonged to the cherub-faced heldentenor Antony, who wrapped a white parachute-silk schmatte around his considerable chest with even more considerable élan. “It’s just a rag that was lying around,” he told me, but he looked fabulous, really, and sounded even more angelic than usual, including, of course, on “Happy Birthday.”

Rumor had it that Abramovic had tried to book Eartha Kitt to join him in a duet. Imagine! As it happened, Antony had plenty of friends and collaborators in the audience: an effervescent David Byrne (with new flame Cindy Sherman), a grim Lou Reed (with his old flame, Laurie Anderson), and a sweetly bojangled Björk, very attentive as her tablemate Kiki Smith explained the difference between this down-home, old-friends affair and the stiffer kind of art dinners one usually suffers at institutions. “Most of the time, you’re the one artist at the table, and you’re expected to entertain everyone else,” she said, her eyes sparkling as she took in the 350 familiar faces around her. “This is the biggest concentration of artists I’ve ever seen in one room!” agreed Shirin Neshat. “When it wasn’t a funeral, you mean,” someone else chimed in. (In fact, this very rotunda would become the site of a memorial for art historian Robert Rosenblum just a few days later.)

Unusually, for an art-world event today, just about everyone at the dinner could remember the '70s. That’s when Abramovic first came on the scene with Ulay, her former mate. Much to everyone’s surprise, he was there, too, standing up to cheers as Abramovic called out his name on a list of others—Chrissie Iles and Artforum’s own Charles Guarino—who shared her birthday (though not her birth year, as she was careful to note). At last, it was time for cocktails, and she raised a glass to toast, well, everyone, with “The Marina Abramovic,” a thick blood-red drink designed for the occasion by artist Ektoras Binikos from ingredients that might have included eye of newt and toe of frog, for all we knew, though we were told it was made from sixty-year-old balsamic vinegar, bitters, kumquats, and—in place of the blood and tears Marina had desired—red pepper powder. Oh yes, and gin.

Left: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Matthew Barney. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

On a menu described as “a fusion between the European Union and American democracy, designed to strengthen the body and elevate the soul,” the main course was—vegans be damned—“Serbian lamb killed in the traditional way.” (I’m told that means it was strangled.) During the meal, Abramovic thanked all of her significant others, starting with hubby Paolo Canevari and including her trainer and her all-important dermatologist, the notorious Dr. Norman Orentreich. (At this, there was much knowing laughter—a little too knowing, if you ask me.) “When you get old, you get wise,” Abramovic said, making me wonder if I should not be running out for Thermage or perhaps to slaughter a lamb, before I turn sixty, too.

Left: Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Ulay. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Artist Francesco Clemente and Alba Clemente. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Shirin Neshat. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Collectors Raymond Learsy and Melva Bucksbaum. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Paolo Canevari. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)