The Future Is Female

Linda Yablonsky at the New York galas

Left: Artist Ai Weiwei with dealer Mary Boone. Right: Artist Laurie Simmons and actress Molly Ringwald. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

PEOPLE IN THE ART WORLD have a way of shielding themselves from reality—mainly by giving themselves to art. Last week in New York, election jitters gave urgency to every event, beginning with the sixth annual Spotlights lunch hosted last Tuesday—one week from Election Day—by the International Center of Photography.

If art sometimes reflects reality, it went further here by giving a clear sign of what’s to come: women running the show.

Are you ready, guys?

Apparently not, judging from the dominant female presence at the lunch. Okay, so the event honors women artists—in this case, Laurie Simmons—but still. “This campaign has been educational for women in society,” Simmons said in her opening remarks. Indeed! Where was the male support?

Left: Artist Carrie Mae Weems. Right: Haus der Kunst director Okwui Enwezor.

It didn’t matter. Having overdosed on the testosterone spread like a disease by Donald Trump, no one seemed to miss it—not with actress Molly Ringwald asking pertinent questions of Simmons during an onstage interview, a glowing Lena Dunham on hand to applaud her mother, and the regal Candice Bergen bolstering her dedication of a Mary Ellen Mark memorial scholarship with a $25,000 check.

After dark, events tipped toward gender parity. Architects Elizabeth Diller, Ric Scofidio, and Charles Renfro stood front and center at the Jewish Museum, where they designed the lovely, virtual-reality-flecked exhibition for midcentury French designer Pierre Chareau opening that evening—a first for Chareau in this country. I feel obligated to note that the museum has a female director, Claudia Gould. And though the lobby shows a “self-portrait” by Alex Israel, the image painted inside the blue skies of his profile was of his mother, where it all began. “Well, this is the Jewish Museum,” he said.

Downtown in Chelsea, the focus of Performa’s annual benefit gala was South Africa, the mother country of the performance biennial’s founder, RoseLee Goldberg (a woman very much in charge). Her evening’s trimmings included a New Orleans–style procession, through a room packed with 350 guests, led by Cape Town–based Athi-Patra Ruga, costumed like his choir and musicians in flowing white garments designed by the fashion collective threeASFOUR.

All benefits come with obligatory speeches. We know and accept this. But at the end of a two-year onslaught of political bloviating, even a lineup of toasters that included the indomitable Carrie Mae Weems, Steve McQueen (on video), and Chika Okeke-Agulu was no match for honoree Okwui Enwezor, who blew down the house.

Left: Architects Elizabeth Diller, Ric Scofidio, and Charles Renfro. Right: Artist Katrín Sigurdardóttir and SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti.

“I didn’t come to the United States to succeed, or to leap across that invisible wall that Donald Trump wants to make real,” began the Nigerian-born Haus der Kunst director. “I did not come to the United States with a sense of my marginality or with a sense of my lessness,” he continued. “I came because it was simply the thing to do.”

Nevertheless, Enwezor became a star of the international exhibition circuit in 1997 by curating the second Johannesburg Biennial at age twenty-five and going on to direct Documenta 11, the 2008 Gwangju Biennial, and, among other big shows, the 2015 Venice Biennale. And he lived to tell about it here, in ways both self-serving and utterly profound. His speech definitely moved a diverse audience of artists, curators, and patrons, whom he helped feel at home in an increasingly threatening, post-apartheid world by describing what he called the “emotional geography” of a collective journey through the human imagination.

Many departing guests were facing multiple benefits as well as exhibition openings in days to come. Wednesday even threw in an art fair, the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) show, which opened at the Park Avenue Armory—possibly for the last time. “Richard Solomon just told us that next year’s fair will be at the Javits Center,” said dealer Lawrence Luhring—forced out by programming, I presume, rather than the usual culprit: a conversion to luxury condos.

Left: Writer-director-actor Lena Dunham with her parents, artists Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons. Right: Michelle Harewood and art historian Benjamin Buchloh.

Up on East Eighty-Second Street, as a prelude to SculptureCenter’s benefit to follow in the Rainbow Room, Daniel Buchholz was opening “Portraits” by Iza Genzken, the evening’s honoree. The works on view, sealed behind thick plastic, were actually self-portraits collaged by the artist from pictures made of her by other artists. At dinner, Genzken appeared only in a video greeting sent from Germany, where she was ailing. But there were plenty of other artists seated at every donor table—tacit acknowledgement of the role director Mary Ceruti’s institution plays in launching careers. “We’re early and on point,” Ceruti noted.

Need I say it? Many of those early-bird picks have been women, such as this year’s Turner Prize finalist Anthea Hamilton and this year’s Hugo Boss prizewinner Anicka Yi, as well as artist Aki Sasamoto, currently exhibited in Long Island City. They were all present, with Jessi Reaves, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Hanna Liden, and SculptureCenter artist board members Sanford Biggers and Adam McEwen.

But the best was yet to come, this time in the distinctly male form of art historian Benjamin Buchloh. Charged with summing up Genzken’s accomplishments in under seven minutes, he delivered an astonishing, clear, and concise history of the past fifty years of art––and he did it without once leaving the subject of his fifty-year friendship with Genzken.

I couldn’t help thinking, If only politicians could give speeches like these! I was now looking forward to whatever the next night would bring. And though I was sad to miss the dinner at the Ukrainian National Home for Elizabeth Peyton’s New York debut with Gladstone Gallery, the evening did not disappoint.

Left: Brooklyn Museum curator Catherine Morris with J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, artists Marilyn Minter and Cindy Sherman, and Brooklyn Museum chief curator Nancy Spector. Right: Artist Carol Bove.

Actually, it wasn’t exactly a speech I heard on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Museum but a kind of interrupted monologue by Iggy Pop. The rock god, who is nearly seventy and still amazing, even sitting still, was onstage with artist Jeremy Deller in a conversation moderated by poet Tom Healy. But Iggy didn’t need much prompting.

The subject was “Life Class,” an exhibition opening that night and accompanied by a must-have publication. The show features fifty-three drawings made last February by students, aged nineteen to eighty, who were selected by Deller to draw a nude Iggy––or, as Deller put it, “the most important body in America.” That body has been through a lot. “I wanted to make a good first impression,” Iggy confided to the audience, which included several of the students, wide-eyed at the larger-than-life projections of their drawings. “It was like a day in the high school I never went to.”

“The biggest surprise of this project,” Deller added, “was that it happened.”

After that dose of male physicality, women stepped up again, in the form of fabulously dressed artists attending the museum’s opening of “Pretty/Dirty,” a luscious Marilyn Minter retrospective that has landed in New York after stops in Houston and Denver, complete with signs warning of sexually explicit content. (Is there a better way to attract an audience?)

Left: Artists Mark di Suvero and Joanna Pousette-Dart. Right: Art historian Bartek Przybyl Olowski with artist Paulina Olowska.

“This is my whole support system!” Minter exclaimed when she spotted Lorna Simpson, Cindy Sherman, Julie Mehretu, Laurie Simmons, Deborah Kass, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, and dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn arriving for a post-opening dinner shared with the Deller/Pop crew and an all-female staff from the museum: director Anne Pasternak, chief curator Nancy Spector, and Catherine Morris, curator of the Minter exhibition in Brooklyn. (The show originated with Contemporary Art Museum Houston’s director Bill Arning.) I asked Iggy if he ever felt exploited by Deller’s class. “I had to think a long time about that,” he said. “Until I got to a point where it really didn’t matter anymore what people said.” He looked happy.

More sobering was “Laundromat,” Ai Weiwei’s top-to-bottom installation at Deitch Projects of twenty-four hundred carefully organized and displayed shoes and laundered and pressed clothes abandoned by Syrian refugees in Idomeni, Greece. It’s a powerful encounter with a crisis too removed from here to grasp palpably.

Jennifer Blei Stockman was at the gallery on Friday morning, doing interviews for an HBO documentary on Ai’s extended project, which the Nobel Peace Prize winner says really began when he was in detention in China, connecting to the outside world solely through the internet. Indeed, Instagram plays a large role in “Laundromat,” where Ai’s postings from Greece cover the walls. Three thousand WhatsApp posts from all over the world—he also went to camps in Bangladesh, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere—tile the floors. “I had to do it,” he said. “It’s huge, not just about one place.” Stockman asked him about his hopes for the show. “It will accomplish nothing,” Ai replied. “What can a gallery show do? How many people will see it?”

If Instagram has anything to do with it, more than just a few.

Left: Critic Peter Schjeldahl and artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Right: Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould and artist Alex Israel.

Not in crisis was Paulina Olowska, who had arrived with her husband from Poland for the aptly named “Wisteria, Mysteria, Hysteria,” her first show at Metro Pictures since 2010. And a smashing group of paintings and ceramic sculptures it is, celebrated with candelabras in the gallery and a lively lunch at Hotel Americano, attended by artist friends Sarah Crowner and Charline von Heyl, MoMA curator Laura Hoptman, and Tim Griffin, director of The Kitchen, where Olowska will stage a magical mystery performance in January. “You’re such a good artist,” collector Thea Westreich told Olowska. “Your paintings are always different, but they follow your same trajectory, and these are really strong.” No argument here.

The night belonged to galleries in Chelsea, where mallet-wielding youngsters at Paula Cooper played new Mark di Suvero sculptures like a gong. Terry Winters rolled out a slew of new paintings at Matthew Marks on Twenty-Second Street, and Ragnar Kjartansson surprised people such as critic Peter Schjeldahl, who was expecting long-form immersive videos, by showing shorter ones on monitors along with “adequate” landscape paintings of pleasant suburban homes in Israeli settlements on the West Bank, executed en plein air. “I didn’t want to show the other side,” Kjartansson said. “We know what’s there. This is maybe not what you expect.” Exactly.

Even more unexpected were the small naif drawings in Marks’s Twenty-Fourth Street space by none other than Nan Goldin. “I started drawing when I was ten,” she said. “Then I stopped, until last year. I didn’t realize till just now, when someone pointed it out, that they’re all about violence, sex, and death. I guess that’s my theme!”

Saturday afternoon departed slightly from the week’s usual run with a memorial for Tony Feher, whose friends filled Saint Mark’s Church for a poignant, bracing tribute to the sculptor, who died last June. (This was the only time all week when the presidential campaign did not come up.)

Left: Artists Lorna Simpson, Marina Adams, and Stanley Whitney. Right: Artists Nan Goldin and Billy Sullivan.

Back in Chelsea, the election now just two days away, Carol Bove absolutely commanded two of David Zwirner’s big spaces on Nineteenth Street with a show of large-scale rusted and painted steel sculptures. Think Anthony Caro, John Chamberlain, Richard Serra, but with the humor of a woman who dares to title her show “Polka Dots.” For a few minutes anyway, conversation strayed from politics to art—including the art of the political Ai Weiwei, who continued his four-gallery takeover of Manhattan with cast-iron tree trunks and root sculptures at Lisson Gallery and one giant patched-together actual tree reaching to the rafters at Mary Boone. “Know anyone who wants to take home a dead, twenty-four-foot-tall tree?” she joked. Actually, it’s magnificent.

A casual serve-yourself Mexican dinner at Tacombi followed. Ai said he’s heading next to the Mexican border to continue his documentary on migrants. I told him to be careful. This close to the election, with tensions running high, he could put himself at risk. “Why?” he asked. “Do I look Mexican? I’m not worried. I have a fixer. But on the US side, maybe I’ll wear a T-shirt that says ‘I’m Chinese.’”

The week ended on Sunday, with Dia’s annual Fall Night honoring Robert Morris, whose 1964 Green Gallery show has just entered the collection at Dia:Beacon. “I’m sure nobody here saw the original,” he said during his speech—the first time I’ve ever seen an artist at a gala accompany his speech with a PowerPoint presentation. It went over big––the whole thing––especially with this crowd, which included Wade Guyton (who gave an endearing toast) and Keith Sonnier. Each had Morris for a teacher, decades apart.

“I love the way Dia always includes a lot of artists at their galas,” said Art Institute of Chicago deputy director Ann Goldstein, eyeing a room where Dorothea Rockburne, Glenn Ligon, Fred Wilson, Nate Lowman, Tom Burr, Josh Kline, Josephine Meckseper, and Nick Mauss were in immediate view. So was the pioneering Joan Jonas, the only person there besides Morris who owned up to seeing his Green Gallery show in its original antiform glory.

Morris finished up his speech—another winner—with a list of what distinguishes the “best” art, which he dismissed by concluding with a quote from Ad Reinhardt. “The best art,” he said, “does not exist.”


Left: Collector Eleanor Cayre and artist Hanna Liden. Right: Isa Genzken in her video greeting for the Sculpture Center gala.

Iggy Pop and artist Jeremy Deller.

Left: Artist Nayland Blake. Right: Dealer Marianne Goodman and architect David Adjaye.

Left: Performa curator Adrienne Edwards. Right: SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib.

Left: Frieze Americas & Asia artistic director Abby Bangser and dealer Matt Bangser. Right: Dealers Chiara Repetto and Andrew Kreps.

Left: Performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga and his choir at the Performa gala. Right: Musician Vuyo (Vuyolwethu) Sotashe.

Left: Dealer Alexander Shulan. Right: Collector Wendy Fisher.

Left: Dealer Daniel Buchholz and collector Sascha Bauer. Right: Dealers Alex Logsdail, Mary Boone and Nicholas Logsdail.

Left: Dealer Helene Winer and artist Sarah Crowner. Right: Dealer Janelle Reiring and collector Rodica Seward.

Left: Dealers Jeanne Greenberg Rohaytn and Fabienne Stephan with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. Right: Artists Liz Magic Laser and Sanya Kantarovsky with Whitney Museum curators Elisabeth Sherman and Christopher Lew.

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch with collector Sarah Arison and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach. Right: Artists Carolee Schneemann, Joan Jonas, and Ragnar Kjartansson.

Left: Artist Jeremy Deller and poet Tom Healy. Right: Israel Museum director James Snyder with collector Lauren Taschen.

Left: Artist Jessi Reaves with dealer Bridget Donahue and artist Kerstin Brätsch. Right: Nicole Fasolino and dealer Max Falkenstein.

Left: Filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Sara Driver. Right: Iggy Pop with Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak.

Left: Collectors Richard Chang and Diana Picasso. Right: Dealer Peter Currie and collector Eleanor Heyman Propp.

Left: Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Metropolitan Museum curator Ian Alteveer and collector Ann Tenenbaum.

Left: Artist Terry Winters. Right: Artist Ai Weiwei.

Left: Artists Christopher Williams and Dorothea Rockburne. Right: Artists Robert Morris and Keith Sonnier.

Left: Collector Marty Margolies and Whitney Museum chief curator Scott Rothkopf. Right: Dwan Collection and Archives curator Anne Kovach and collector Virginia Dwan.

Left: Dealer Monica Manzutto and collector Howard Rachofsky. Right: Artists Nate Lowman and Rachel Chandler.

Left: MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey with PIN-UP editor in chief Felix Burritcher and art consultant Sabrina Buell. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone, collector Charles de Gunzburg and Dia director Jessica Morgan.

Left: Artist Wade Guyton with Art Institute of Chicago deputy director and chief curator Ann Goldstein. Right: Artists Fred Wilson and Michelle Stuart with poet Patricia Spears Jones and playwright/curator Carey Lovelace.