Picture Generations

Linda Yablonsky at openings for Patti Smith and William Eggleston

New York

Left: Musicians Michael Stipe and Patti Smith. Right: Photographer William Eggleston. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

WITH MANY SHOWS held over from last year, the lingering vacuum of the recession, and the unbelievably frigid weather, there was an eerie quiet to the windswept streets of Chelsea last Wednesday night, when the Robert Miller Gallery opened the new decade’s art season with “Patti Smith and Steven Sebring: Objects of Life.”

Inside, the atmosphere was different. A huge press of overcooked fans surrounded Smith, Sebring, and movie star Jessica Lange as they huddled for a photo op. Calvin Klein stood nearby talking to friends. Filmmaker Albert Maysles sat in a chair by the reception desk, defining the word nachas for a non-Yiddish-speaking acquaintance. Photographer Edward Mapplethorpe and artist-writer Jack Walls kept their own counsel in the gallery vestibule, and Ryan McGinley appeared, one wrist in a cast and the other in a rehabilitative black glove. “Snowboarding,” he explained, adding that the accident happened in New Hampshire while he was shooting winter Olympians for the New York Times Magazine. So much for throwing yourself into your work.

Smith broke from the crowd to squire Michael Stipe around the exhibition, itself an ode to self-mythology and her other heroes, Robert Mapplethorpe and Arthur Rimbaud. It includes Twombly-esque drawings, large-format photographs (by Sebring) of relics of Smith’s life on the road, and installations of actual relics, like Mapplethorpe’s monogrammed Belgian slippers, Smith’s old typewriter and a few of her favorite books (Joan of Arc), as well as photographs Smith made with her vintage Polaroid Land camera. How did she come by so much of the discontinued film? “I ordered ahead,” she said.

Left: Artist Keith Sonnier. Right: Filmmaker Albert Maysles.

A buffet dinner at Betsy Wittenborn-Miller’s spacious East End Avenue apartment followed, attended by a St. Barts–tanned Klaus Biesenbach, Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, biographer Brad Gooch, and Lenny Kaye, the Patti Smith Group’s ever-affable guitarist. Biesenbach had just moved into two new offices, one at MoMA, where he has Kynaston McShine’s old job as curator at large, and the other at P.S. 1, where he now holds Alanna Heiss’s job as director. Is he going to make changes there? “Yes,” he said. “What do you think I should do?” he asked. Where do we start?

Quietude returned over the following three evenings, when most receptions were on the cozy side and art took center stage. On Thursday, Mary Boone gave over her Fifth Avenue aerie to Keith Sonnier, a post-Minimalist star who more recently has been making neon sculptures either large as a government building or small enough to hang in a closet. (All the wall works here seemed gay.) The opening attracted seasoned contemporaries like Barry Le Va, Joe Zucker, and curator Klaus Kertess, Boone’s onetime mentor. “This show really looks good,” Kertess said. And he ought to know: He installed it.

“We actually sold eight pictures tonight,” dealer Howard Read told William Eggleston at the dinner following his opening at Cheim & Read, where the deadpan photographer, three sheets to the wind, literally held court in a back room, signing autographs between pulls on the ever-present cigarette in one leather-gloved hand. Film producer and Eggleston Trust executive director Cotty Chubb stood over his charge, directing traffic, while photographer Terry Richardson, camera in hand, seemed fixed to the spot. “I can’t take my eyes off him,” Richardson said. “That is the most elegant man I’ve ever seen.”

Left: Artist Ryan McGinley. Right: Artist Juergen Teller with curator Diego Cortez.

At the dinner, Eggleston was seated between collector Sondra Gilman and Elisabeth Sussman, curator of the recent Eggleston retrospective at the Whitney Museum (opening at the Art Institute of Chicago next month). Near midnight, when Gilman went home, Juergen Teller leaped to her place, reminiscing about the time he buddied up with Eggleston for a picture-taking tour of Teller’s native Bavaria. “We never even took out our cameras,” Eggleston said. “We had a beautiful time.”

Friday evening it was back to Chelsea again, where dealer Tim Nye greeted Christophe de Menil, Dia director Philippe Vergne, and many other frozen swells spilling from the icy chill outside into David Zwirner Gallery, suddenly a temple to Minimalism. (An enveloping installation of pink, white, and sun-gold Dan Flavin fluorescents remains on view in another space there, too.) The main event was “Primary Atmospheres: Works from California 1960–1970,” which Nye, working from an early obsession with Robert Irwin, had put together with Zwirner director Kristine Bell.

The surprise was how unimpressive the Irwins looked against unfamiliar Light and Space pieces by lesser-known artists like DeWain Valentine, Laddie John Dill, Helen Pashgian, and Craig Kauffman, whose pink and green plastic scroll is the exhibition’s hands-down winner. “I could do thirty shows with this kind of stuff,” Nye said of the art––long neglected by New York. “So much of it is still in the hands of the artists.”

Left: Lita tends bar. Right: Artist DeWain Valentine with curator/dealer Tim Nye.

There was no getting close to over sixteen hundred unique postcards displayed on the walls of ZieherSmith Gallery, so dense was the throng at Visual AIDS’s annual “Postcards from the Edge!” benefit preview, where well-muscled drag queens tended bar and sold raffle tickets. Most amusing. From there, I took a swing through Bortolami Gallery for Brit Peter Peri’s first show in New York (of low-register/high-priced paintings) and Les Roger’s choco-brown landscapes at Leo Koenig, before landing at Luhring Augustine for Londoner William Daniels’s first appearance here, with fetching semiabstract paintings of crumpled aluminum objects carried off with Duchampian flair.

Despite the resolutely bad news in the world outside art, spirits remained high during the twelve-course meal the gallery gave for Daniels around the corner at Izakaya Ten. At my end of the table, Daniels and his girlfriend, artist Lisa Penny, were seated with curators Matthew Higgs and João Ribas, and conversation ranged from the iconoclast musician/painter/writer Billy Childish (whom Higgs is bringing to White Columns in March) and the reality show Jersey Shore to the thirty thousand artists living in Hackney, to the (then) fevered rumors of Jeffrey Deitch’s imminent appointment to the helm of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art—the only good news on tap. Astonishment all around.

Left: Artist Mark Dion with Grey Rabbit. Right: Artist Sharon Hayes.

By Saturday, convinced that art was not as dead as the frozen streets, I ventured out once again in search of a hubbub by which to warm myself. Sharon Hayes was performing a piece at X Initiative that will be part of her video installation in the forthcoming Whitney Biennial. Jerry Saltz was “killing time,” as he put it, at Andrew Kreps. Decor artist Virgil Marti was front and center at his opening at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, the proprietor of which was swooning over the trompe l’oeil swag curtaining her walls. And at reliquary-filled Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Mark Dion and Jeffrey Vallance looked like a match made in tautological heaven.

That left Omer Fast’s double-channel videos at Postmasters. Recent publicity (and well-received works for Performa and the Hamburger Bahnhof) had brought a large audience that actually sat in the darkened space through the entire hour of the works’ collective run time, content to come in from the cold and watch the on-screen suicide bomber play his grisly part to perfection. There’s no business like show business, that’s for sure––unless it’s the art business. That’s different.

Left: Artist Allan McCollum. Right: Artists Annette Lemmieux and Deborah Kass.

Left: Curator Klaus Kertess. Right: Dealer Magda Sawon and artist Omer Fast.

Left: Artist Ghada Amer. Right: Artists Virgil Marti and Pae White.

Left: Artist Billy Sullivan with Anne Livet. Right: Artist Peter McGough.

Left: Artists Barry Le Va and Joe Zucker. Right: Artist Helen Pashigan.

Left: Artist Peter Peri. Right: Luhring Augustine Gallery director Natalia Mager Sacasa with MIT List curator Joao Ribas.

Left: Artists William Daniels and Lisa Penny. Right: Artist Laddie John Dill.

Left: Ann Dexter-Jones with Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Artist Fred Tomaselli.

Left: Angela Mercy, raffle queen at the Visual AIDS benefit. Right: Artists Pati Hertling and Hope Atherton.