LIKE SWALLOWS RETURNING TO CAPISTRANO, the peripatetic patrons of contemporary art alighted in Manhattan last week to dart through openings scheduled to coincide with the auction houses’ annual spring sales.
Among their destinations on Thursday night were shows by French designers François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne at Paul Kasmin, Chinese video artist Yang Fudong and Albanian-born Berliner Anri Sala at Marian Goodman, British sculptor Gary Webb at Bortolami, Berlin-based Brit Jonathan Monk at Casey Kaplan, Los Angeles–based Dutch artist Lara Schnitger at Anton Kern (where Berliner John Bock had the back room), and German artist Daniel Roth at Maccarone.
All an art aficionado needed in her kit bag was a passport, a compass, and a good supply of stamina. The pursuit of art today is really a safari, even if the wilds of Manhattan have been tamed by money. Adriana Varejão drew megacollector Bernardo Paz (her husband), London dealer Victoria Miro, and Gagosian director Louise Neri to her third show at Lehmann Maupin, which touts her affinity for large-scale paper works by observing, in its press release, that her pieces are “notable for their emptiness.” (Please, God: Save us from press releases!)
After stopping into Jessica Stockholder’s new show of “Exploded Paintings” at Mitchell-Innes & Nash and breathing in a heady dose of accumulated meaning, I struck out for Sarah Charlesworth’s first outing with Susan Inglett. Melva Bucksbaum, fresh from the triumph of the soft-shoe she had danced with Raymond Learsy at the Creative Time benefit the night before, was still aglow. “I got the ties on eBay,” she said of her costume. “We already had the hats.” Charlesworth’s “Pictures Generation” colleagues Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler beamed with undisguised pleasure at Charlesworth’s new light-infused, color silhouettes of a view camera and film. In this case, the medium really is the message. But in art, the message is also the medium.
At Matthew Marks, Gary Hume’s big red barn door of a painting—actually made in, and of, Hume’s upstate New York barn—seemed to tickle the most fancies, particularly those of Josephine Meckseper. “This show is making me really happy,” said the artist whose anarchic, advertising-has-ruined-our-culture works aren’t exactly known for their giggles.
Just as happily, Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham were giving a dinner of Indian takeout for Charlesworth at their Tribeca loft. “This is so much fun, I wish Laurie would give me a party for my next show,” said Marilyn Minter. Pat Steir wanted one, too. So did Matthew Weinstein. “Good! More parties,” said Simmons, who expertly performed that classic diplomatic feint, agreeing without making any promises. “I think this dinner is Pakistani, not Indian,” said Charlesworth. “I know how that goes,” said Mel Kendrick. “People are always mixing me up with Tip Dunham.”
With no out-of-towners, this was a clearly a soiree for the home team—Carol Squiers, Lisa Phillips, Billy Sullivan, Keith Sonnier, Clarissa Dalrymple, Joel Wachs. That wasn’t the story over at Hume’s dinner, given by Matthew Marks at his West Village home. Not only were there plenty of Brits, including Tate director Nicholas Serota, but also photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and the outer-planetary Rene Ricard. “How do you like my vase of wine?” Jessica Craig-Martin inquired, holding aloft what was possibly the largest drinking glass ever made.
Certainly the largest creature God ever made was Jonah’s whale, the subject of the epic new paintings Verne Dawson brought to Gavin Brown on Friday. The palette was a lot quieter, if no less biblical, at Gladstone Gallery, where the Romanian artist Victor Man was making his first solo New York appearance. Sacrificial Christian symbolism appeared in his shadowy canvases again and again. But the showstopper was the installation, in a bunkerlike room, of a light-box transparency showing the wooden arms of a Christ figure that had been cut from an old crucifix and stuffed behind a church grate. On the floor was a dead tree branch. On the wall was a mirrored medicine chest.
I mistook the arms for the desiccated limbs of a real person. That seemed to amuse Man; happily, no one in a crowd that included Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler, Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp, ICA Boston curator Nicholas Baume, Whitney curator Chrissie Iles, artists Slater Bradley and Ugo Rondinone, and collectors Mera and Don Rubell with Susan and Michael Hort (Man’s first American patrons) noticed. “Did you manage to get the medicine chest open?” Brant Publications’ editorial director Glenn O’Brien asked. “It wouldn’t budge for me.”
O’Brien let his boss, Peter Brant, take center stage at the VIP opening of the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Saturday afternoon. Brant is a polo player as well as a publisher, newsprint magnate, and the latest megacollector to build his own museum. It's basically the Versailles of polo fields; the surrounding area includes pastures (in one of which Jeff Koons’s flowering Puppy sits all alone, facing Mecca), a grandstand, and a large, flagstone clubhouse that architect Richard Gluckman has converted into an exhibition space.
“Good to see Peter reaching out to the community with Butt Plug,” commented Mera Rubell. She was referring to Paul McCarthy’s giganamous black bronze sculpture, which Brant had placed on the front lawn, just off the road, to welcome visitors. Koons’s orange Balloon Dog sat on a hill near the building’s second story, looking tiny in the distance. “I live in Wilton, which isn’t far from here,” said the actor Christopher Walken, “and I have to say that, even for these parts, this is some big spread.”
The reception was nominally for artists in Brant’s collection, and Richard Serra, David Salle, Francesco Clemente, Donald Baechler, and Koons were there. But collectors far outnumbered artists, as did the dealers who cater to all of them (Larry Gagosian, Daniella Luxembourg, Gavin Brown, Sadie Coles, etc.). Two other Balloon Dog owners, Dakis Joannou and Eli Broad, came to pay their respects, as did collectors Irving Blum from Los Angeles, Pauline Karpidas from London, and Eugenio López from Mexico City. “This is fantastic,” said López. “Isn’t this marvelous?” Karpidas exclaimed. “It’s just great,” said Blum.
It wasn’t clear whether they were talking about the building, the setting, the crowd, or the art on display. Brant said he had designed the installation with Urs Fischer and a little help from dealers Tony Shafrazi and Jeffrey Deitch. “I don’t remember that piece,” said Metro Pictures’ Helen Winer to her business partner Janelle Reiring. They were standing over a small Mike Kelley blanket-and-stuffed-animal work on the floor. “When did we show that?”
“I never knew Dennis Hopper played a Nazi,” said Walken, coming out on the terrace where the crowd had drifted for cocktails. He had just taken his first gander at Piotr Uklanski’s suite of 164 head shots of actors who have all played Nazis in movies. “Jack Palance is there, too,” Walken added. “But I never want to see that movie.”
Shafrazi pulled up Hopper’s cell-phone number on his BlackBerry. “Julian Schnabel always does this, too,” Walken said. “Name comes up, a minute later Julian has him on the phone.” Shafrazi handed Walken the BlackBerry. “You played a Nazi, Dennis?” Walken said. “I never knew.”
A moment later, Brant joined his mother and nine children and other family members in front of the Balloon Dog for a group portrait by Todd Eberle. Brant invited Koons to be in the picture, and the ever-accommodating artist knelt down, front and center. Watching from the deck, Mera Rubell told Francesco Vezzoli, “I like an artist’s early work. What’s your thing with the late?”
“I’m interested in what an artist can show us at the end,” Vezzoli said. “And I like the decadence.”