Moments Like These

Linda Yablonsky at November openings in New York

Left: Artist Terry Winters, Karma Books publisher Brendan Dugan and Whitney Museum curator Scott Rothkopf. Right: Artist Sarah Morris.

EARLY EACH NOVEMBER, the auction houses start trumpeting their fall sales in New York with predictions of prices best described as insane. But hey, what would contemporary art be if it couldn’t be outrageous? Usually, of course, the provocations come from artists. During preauction week, when everyone comes out to play, primary-market dealers turn up the heat to remind us that there wouldn’t be a secondary market without new art—or any kind of art without artists.

Last Thursday, to mark her debut with his gallery, David Zwirner gave a press conference with the eighty-four-year-old Yayoi Kusama. Wheelchair-bound and clad in a kimono-like, yellow-and-black dotted dress designed, she said, “with Louis Vuitton,” she spoke at length through a translator. “Please be well and be happy!” she said, underscoring that plea by emphasizing the hardships of her life. They include several suicide attempts and her current disability, the consequence of “doing too much art.”

Without warning, she then broke into song, performing “Manhattan Suicide Addict,” the tune she sings in a video of the same title playing in one of the three Zwirner spaces on West Nineteenth Street. The other two have her latest paintings, landscapes where long-lashed eyeballs and flowers replace her polka-dotted “infinity nets” of the past. “I’ll never forget tonight,” she concluded. “Please feel something from my artwork.”

Left: Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees with editor/writer Katherine Madden. Right: Artist Barry Le Va.

How many other artists would say that in public? I don’t know, but I could feel the pain behind the no less serious feminist-Conceptualist Elaine Reichek’s debut with the Zach Feuer gallery, where she is showing foundational works dating from 1972 to 1995. Most have never been exhibited in New York. Better late than never! The method behind the madness of photographs and sculptural objects that simultaneously allude to “women’s work” (like sewing), women’s bodies, and women’s place outside the home was refreshingly simple. “You take a teepee,” she said. “A primary object, a triangle. You invert it. Then you knit it.”

Her old friend Isaac Julien definitely has feelings about the logic-defying art market and the recession-proof superrich who invest in it. His latest films and photos at Metro Pictures undermine the determined Polyanna-ism of those who don’t care a whit about anything below the bottom line, especially the feelings of people whose labor they exploit. One video gets a star turn from Simon de Pury, who espouses market “values” as only a former hammer-holder could. “I think collecting is an instinct,” he says. “My little daughter has a huge collection of rubber ducks!” An actual star—James Franco—is a little too obvious as the phoniest art shark on the planet, but a maid who speaks from the heart in the exquisitely photographed Dubai chapter of Playtime finally makes it all very real.

Friday was the night of a thousand dinner guests. At least it felt that way. I don’t know if they were invited to the table, but Kusama’s public opening attracted a crowd of fans rabid enough to suggest a sports hero. And she wasn’t the only triple-threat artist putting in an appearance that evening. In a rare foray beyond his studio in London’s Peckham, the effusive recluse Raqib Shaw emerged from a back office long enough to experience the reception for his Paradise Lost, the Milton epic he has reimagined as glittery phantasmagorias featuring fantasy creatures making love and war in the ruins of classical architecture. He also made his first sculpture, a tree of life from which hung tiny satyrs in their underwear. “I’ve been an inspiration to Raqib,” observed architect Peter Marino, dressed in his usual motorcycle leathers. “Those are my boots. That’s my jockstrap. My harness. Seriously.”

Left: MoMA chief curator of media and performance Stuart Comer with artist Judith Barry. Right: Artist Brice Marden.

In another New York debut, this time at Barbara Gladstone’s Twenty-First Street space, Cyprien Gaillard took his continuing obsession with regenerative decay to a whole new level. On the floor were huge fragments of machine carcasses—the teeth and shovels of earth excavators that Gaillard found rotting in various construction sites—and subsequently waxed, polished, and loaded with carved onyx to turn them into indoor sculptures. There were a lot of backslapping bear hugs between Gaillard and male artist friends like Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, and Mark Gonzales, while Rosemarie Trockel held her singular ground at Gladstone’s West Twenty-Fourth Street gallery. It had her signature wool works as well as eccentric new wall sculptures and a cast steel and plastic sofa and an Acrystal chair, both draped with a plastic sheet. “They never get dirty!” she said.

Down in the so-called South Village, Ann Craven—a painter who deserves much bigger play than she ever gets—made a grand showing at Maccarone. Next door at Gavin Brown, the Scottish artist and bandleader Martin Creed filled the block-long gallery with new works in several media. A driverless car parked on the sidewalk startled visitors approaching the entrance by throwing open its doors, blinking its lights, and unleashing a very loud sportscast from its radio. A genius film inside the building, of people crossing the street outside, was absurdism at peak. Creed wasn’t there when I arrived, because he was at the opening of his other show in Hauser & Wirth’s East Sixty-Ninth Street townhouse. And the larger of yet another multigallery assault, by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, was so mobbed I couldn’t get near it. (The other part is in collector-consultant Mark Fletcher’s viewing room on Washington Square.)

Back in Chelsea, Matthew Marks was running another double-header: wacky new paintings and “wonky” sculptures by Gary Hume, accessed through enormous, pink enamel doors on West Twenty-Second, and new graphite drawings by the never-a-miss Brice Marden on West Twenty-Fourth. While heavy hitters like collector Anne Bass; artists Francesco Clemente, Terry Winters, and Pat Steir (a college classmate of Marden’s); Metropolitan Museum curator Nicholas Cullinan; and writers Joan Didion and Hilton Als made off to Indochine for the Marks fete, the young glam crowd—two hundred strong—filled Industria Superstudio for the Gaillard-Trockel dinner. There was another big crowd for Zwirner’s Kusama dinner, while Ivan Wirth found out why Gavin Brown dinners can be the best in town when the two jointly toasted Creed on the Brown gallery roof.

Left: Dealer Zach Feuer, artist Elaine Reicheck, and writer Judith Thurman. Right: Dealer Matthew Dipple and artist Sara VanDerBeek.

All these huge dinners in one night, and I’m not even counting the endless promo meals arranged by the auction houses. People like to pooh-pooh the social aspect of the New York art world but these events, while good for business, are where the feelings rise to the surface and make a world in the first place. No?

Next day it was collector Peter Brant—a prominent seller at Christie’s—who welcomed the obligatory troops to his foundation in Connecticut for his semiannual, auction-week homage—this time to Julian Schnabel, an artist who looks to have a pretty bright future. Watch out. From there, the best place to go was Long Island City, where the SculptureCenter, though still partly under construction, opened solo shows by Agnieszka Kurant, Sam Anderson, and Tue Greenfort. I was especially caught up in Kurant’s investigations into what she calls phantom realities—either mythical places believed to be real or missing fragments of known events. One work is a film that unites three actors cut from The Conversation (Abe Vigoda), Vanishing Point (Charlotte Rampling) and Pulp Fiction (Dick Miller) in a trailer where the credits—the names of 150 actors cut from as many films—are actually the start of the film.

Back in Manhattan, Pádraig Timoney opened at Andrew Kreps, while the dealer’s wife Chiara Repetto and her sister Francesca Kaufmann christened their Milanese gallery’s new Manhattan outpost with Pop-Surreal paintings by Pierpaolo Campanini, an Italian who should be better known away from home. At Balice Hertling’s New York office, Zoe Stillpass, the art historian daughter of Cincinnati collector Andy Stillpass, pulled off the smart curatorial coup of the week with a cross-generational, multinational, and unusual group show, “Fearful Symmetry.” Hard to believe it was the younger Stillpass’s virgin outing. Then again, as she said, “I grew up with stuff like this.”

Left: Artist Dan Colen and actress/model Noot Seer. Right: Collector Andy Stillpass and dealer Alexander Hertling.

All this time, throughout the week, the Performa biennial was underway all over the city. On Sunday night—why stay home resting at times like this?—I caught part of London-based Cally Spooner’s all-singing show on the staircase of the National Academy Museum; the fashion collective threeASFOUR’s erotic interpretation of an ancient ritual involving spice bowls and dresses made of freshly baked buns; and Ryan McNamara’s MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet. Making unorthodox use of the Connelly Theater’s temporary seating, players moved the captive audience through several rooms and back to the auditorium, so that each person had a slightly different experience of the same dances, kind of like eyewitnesses at a crime scene.

Just goes to show: You can never trust the moment to stay in the moment. Not in the art world. You’ve got to catch it now, or it’s gone.

Left: Dealer Chiara Repetto, artist Billy Sullivan, and dealer Francesca Kaufmann. Right: Artist Stephen Westfall.

Left: Artists Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili and Andro Wekua. Right: Dealer Elizabeth Dee and artist Mark Barrow.

Left: Artists Eileen Quinlan and Anne Collier. Right: Dealer Alexander Gray.

Left: Dealers Daniel Buchholz, Liz Mulholland, and Peter Currie. Right: Curator Zoe Stillpass.

Left: Artists Cheyney Thompson and Roe Ethridge with collector Thea Westreich. Right: Artist Raqib Shaw.

Left: Artist Cyprien Gaillard. Right: Artist Yayoi Kusama and dealer David Zwirner. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Artists Wangechi Mutu and Laurie Simmons. Right: Artist Katrín Sigurdardóttir and Sculpture Center deputy director Frederick Janka.

Left: Artist Kehinde Wiley. Right: Dealer Michele Maccarone and artist Ann Craven.

Left: Artist Gary Hume. Right: Critic Peter Schjeldahl and artist Martin Puryear.

Left: Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould. Right: Photographer Jessica Craig-Martin and Metropolitan Museum curator of contemporary art Nicholas Cullinan.

Left: Artist Agnieszka Kurant. Right: Gabs Taylor, artist Nayland Blake, artist Georgie Hopton, and writer Hilton Als.

Left: Met Museum conservator Pete Dandridge with artist Pat Steir, publisher Joost Elffers, and designer Suzanne Shaker. Right: Artists Isaac Julien and Rainer Ganahl.

Left: Dealer Jay Gorney. Right: Artist Joan Jonas with Whitney Museum curator Elisabeth Sussman.

Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume with artist Slater Bradley. Right: Artist Ryan McNamara and dancer Brandon Washington.

Left: Artists Rosemarie Trockel and T. J. Wilcox. Right: Museum der Moderne Salzburg director Sabine Breitwieser with MoMA chief curator of media and performance Stuart Comer.

Left: Dealer Matthew Marks with artist Brice Marden, architecture critic Nicolai Ourrossoff, and artist Cecily Brown. Right: Designers Ange and Adi Gil from threeASFOUR.