Rake's Progress

New York

Left: Bruno Bischofberger, Larry Gagosian, and Cecily Brown. Photo: Patrick McMullan/PMc. Right: Jane Holzer and Rachel Feinstein.

“Jerry and Roberta hate me and Artforum doesn't know I exist,” Cecily Brown was saying to playwright Tom Stoppard and Artforum senior editor Scott Rothkopf. The three were sharing a rear banquette on the third floor of 5 Ninth, where—despite the winter's first major snowstorm—Larry Gagosian had brought out the troops to toast Brown's opening at his Chelsea gallery.

The artist was swapping war stories with Stoppard, a surprise guest, sharing tales of the awkward moments that can result from being friendly with critics. Stoppard, who has won (and deserved) just about every top honor the theater can bestow on a playwright, had never seen a Cecily Brown painting before, nor had he ever met the artist, though he was acquainted with her mother, a London novelist. All present seemed to agree that life is more interesting when it includes your critics, and that art is more interesting when you get to know the artist, as it enriches your understanding of the work, even if you think that the work is hateful.

At the opening, Brown's seven new semiabstract landscapes attracted a number of other artists (David Salle, Christopher Wool and Charline von Heyl, Will Cotton, Amy Sillman, Rachel Harrison) and clear admiration. Painted at heroic scale in her layered, quick-flick manner, they made economical use of her Bacchanalian nudes and offered copious amounts of falling leaves in every color of the harvest and the planting season, even in I Will Not Paint Any More Boring Leaves (2) (2?). Brown has kept her promise. The leaves are not boring but glorious, and every single painting sold before the evening began, at prices ranging from $50,000 to about $130,000. (“Quite reasonable, don't you think?” commented one gallery assistant.)

“That must be what Cecily meant when she said there was one really difficult painting in the show,” observed Rachel Feinstein as she stood before a spectacularly weird yellow painting with thick, dog-doo-brown patches that set it off from the rest. (Rumor: Gagosian is keeping that one.) “It's the best one,” said Feinstein's hubby, John Currin, who will be showing in the same space in the not-so-distant future.

The party was a lubricious affair that felt more like an old-fashioned after-hours club than a blue-chip art dinner, possibly because it was standing-room only, there was a bar and loud music on every floor, and people tended to go to the bathrooms in groups of three. Painter Hope Atherton seemed especially to interest dealer Gavin Brown (no relation to Cecily—that we know of). Other guests, a mix of art, fashion (Tara Subkoff, Daryl Kerrigan, Camilla Nickerson), and money of vague provenance, made do with finger-food served by waiters who passed by every couple of hours. Currin, an avid follower of political blogs (particularly the right-wing variety), observed that his old friend Sean Landers had anticipated blogging in his painting long before anyone starting doing it on the Internet. Landers added that he would love to do an actual blog, but only if he could be sure that lots of people would be reading it. Risk you take, Sean. Risk you take.

Left: Paul Graham and Bronwyn Keenan. Photo: Patrick McMullan/PMc. Right: Sean Landers and Cecily Brown.