Homes for the Holidays

Linda Yablonsky on holidays in the art world

Left: Artists Louise Lawler and Cindy Sherman. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch and collector Dasha Zukhova. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE BIG DIFFERENCE between art parties at Christmas and other times is that everyone attending is off duty. Relaxed, fueled by bubbly, anxious at the prospect of separation, and elated by the prospect of same, bedfellows familiar and strange gathered in New York last week for the year’s final revels together.

Dealer Gordon VeneKlasen brought a personal touch to his holiday cocktail on Tuesday, December 17, by opening his Washington Mews house to inspection by artists, curators, collectors, dealers, and museum directors. With no particular agenda to pursue, most conversations began (and sometimes ended) with a where-are-you-spending-the-holidays inquiry—the common currency of exchange everywhere that week. Mexico, not St. Barts, appeared to be the getaway of choice, with Paris, London, Aspen, Los Angeles, and hot spots in Cuba, Panama, and India following close behind. Elizabeth Peyton, however, was looking forward to ten days in Japan.

That subject matter exhausted, the conversational tide turned to the other people in the room. “Do you know who that is?” asked collector Shelley Fox Aarons, when a tall man dressed in a tall, furry black hat and a Union Jack motorcycle jacket with the letters UK emblazoned on the back strode through. “Have you seen that man before?” curator Clarissa Dalrymple inquired, as did Peter Saul and at least a dozen other people. No one knew—not Whitney chief curator Donna De Salvo, collector Andrew Fabrikant, White Columns director Matthew Higgs, David Zwirner director Ales Ortuzar, curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, collector Dasha Zhukova, or even Jeffrey Deitch, soon to depart for Los Angeles, but, he said, just as soon to return to New York to plan the opening of his ginormous new space in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “You know me,” he said. “I want to do very big shows.”

Left: Artist Bing Wright and dealer Paula Cooper. Right: Dealers Jose Martos and Gavin Brown.

VeneKlasen assured me I had to meet the mystery man. He turned out to be Johnny Rozsa, a disarming, Nairobi-born Englishman who lives in the East Village. “I’m a celebrity photographer,” he said. Refreshingly, he prints only untouched, non-Photoshopped pictures of his prey. (His 2010 book, Untouched, is about to come out in a new edition.) “He was part of the Leigh Bowery circle,” said Centre Pompidou adjunct curator Sylvia Chivaratanond, the only person at the party to know his true provenance. “This is the first time I’ve seen him without makeup.”

Meanwhile, her husband, Dia director Philippe Vergne, reflected on the history of VeneKlasen’s house. “It used to be Dan Loeb’s,” Vergne said, speaking of the sometimes hackle-raising financier and collector. “And,” he added, glancing upward, “that used to be a Turrell Skyspace. Loeb took it with him.”

Wednesday brought biting cold. The best escape was within the hearthlike warmth of Gavin Brown’s holiday party, held on the enclosed roof deck above his SoHo gallery. “Spectacular tree, Gavin!” collector Beth Swofford complimented the garrulous host, who sported a headband appointed with little Santas. Indeed, the tall evergreen at the center of the deck bathed the already beaming guests in splendid, flattering light. The whole room was lovely—benches around the tree, buckets of beer and soft drinks here and there on the floor, and at several stations around the sides of the room were tables with smoked fish, ham, and, most delicious, pots of salt potatoes.

Left: Artist K8 Hardy and Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar. Right: Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye performing at the Museum of Modern Art.

“Who are all these people?” asked Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár, looking over a party that had suddenly filled up with posses of young arrivistes. “I hardly know anyone here,” marveled Interview editor Christopher Bollen. “I don’t recognize a lot of people either,” dealer Alex Hertling concurred. “Maybe they heard about it on Twitter?” suggested fellow dealer Alex Zachary. “We just came from the Marina Abramović show,” said designers Ange and Gabi Asfour of the Robert Wilson–directed spectacular, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović at the Park Avenue Armory, another holiday-week event.

That wasn’t the only public entertainment on the calendar. At noon on Thursday, Michael Stipe appeared in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art to introduce Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye for Smith’s seventh annual Jean Genet birthday concert. “This show is dedicated to the great Lou Reed and Peter O’Toole,” he said. “And to the great Joan Fontaine.” (All had passed to the other side in preceding days. In fact, the week had begun with an unforgettable and exhilarating tribute to Reed at the Apollo Theater, organized by Laurie Anderson, that was by turns funny, soulful, rousing, and beautiful.)

Smith began her hour-long set with Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” then alternated songs with readings of poetry and prose. “I just want to give us a little atmosphere of Jean Genet,” she said to the couple of hundred listeners seated on the floor around her. “We’re all Genet,” she told them, in one of her more poignant ad-libs. “All of us have a little bit of swagger and sorrow. We’re the cries of moments and of dreams.”

Left: Artist Lorna Simpson and collector Jennifer McSweeney. Right: Artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ken Okiishi.

That evening, it was Paula Cooper’s turn to host a holiday party, at Blaue Gans in TriBeCa. “Try the eggnog,” she said, as gallery artists Wayne Gonzalez, Bing Wright, and Tauba Auerbach appeared at her side. “I think I’ll have another one.” A few blocks away, on Walker Street, the “Twelve Trees of Christmas Party” was in progress. Temp Space, Y & S, and the online-based event producer Gertrude had collaborated to invite twelve artists and curators, including Rob Pruitt, Haley Mellin, and the collectives Jogging and Family Dinner, to decorate a tree, with guests invited to add their own touches to some. All the trees were twelve feet tall, cut down in upstate New York by Dylan Brant, one of the party’s curators and the spitting image of his mother, Stephanie Seymour. “I’m just glad it all worked out and everyone’s happy,” he said.

Friday night, Cooper was back in her gallery on West Twenty-First Street to present composer Petr Kotik’s “Many Many Women,” in a five-hour concert by his S.E.M. Ensemble of six singers and six musicians (flutes, trumpets, trombones). It began at 7 PM and ended just past midnight. I arrived during the fifth hour, when fifteen or twenty attentive people remained in the audience. The work is based on an eighty-page novella by Gertrude Stein, for each word of which Kotik composed a note. It was first performed in 1975. It has 173 sections and many repeated phrases, like, “She was sitting and she was saying what she was saying.” Or, “Anything that was beginning and ending is not like continuing.” I couldn’t help but admire the performers’ stamina. “Could you do it again now?” I asked Kotik. “Sure!” he said. He didn’t have to say it twice.

One repeating event, without which no Christmas in the art world would be complete, is the party Cindy Sherman gives at her home each year. Last Saturday’s was by all accounts one of the best. “So warm, so generous, so much fun,” were some of the comments I heard. “Cindy really does bring everyone together each year,” said Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. And Sherman, clad in a bright, rhinestone-and-feathers red dress by Dries van Noten, really did.

Left: Artist James Welling with Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Artists Tauba Auerbach and Andrew Greene.

Her old Hallwalls pals Robert Longo, Nancy Dwyer, Charlie Clough, and Michael Zwack didn’t have to talk just to Pictures generation colleagues Louise Lawler, Troy Brauntuch, and Laurie Simmons, or Sherman’s longtime dealers Helene Winer and Janelle Reiring. Lining up for a Moroccan buffet attended by a fez-topped serving crew were a swarm of ever-hots—Marilyn Minter, Shirin Neshat, Tony Oursler, Kara Walker, Sarah Sze, Chuck Close, James Welling, and Lisa Yuskavage among them. “Matt Dillon is here,” publicist Gina Nanni told her husband, Glenn O’Brien. So was Deborah Harry, Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, collectors Jennifer McSweeney and Nedda Young, writers Dodie Kazanjian and Calvin Tomkins, critics Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz, fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez, and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Everyone talked to everyone else, about—what else?—where each would spend the holidays, and what was hanging on Sherman’s walls.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the artist who put together one of the more fascinating segments of Massimiliano Gioni’s Venice Biennale would surround herself with artworks that please and puzzle. No one could identify who did what. “I know I’m going to feel like a fool when Cindy tells me,” Dwyer said. As a low-key sort of Auntie Mame, sans pretension, Sherman was absolutely in her element. “I do enjoy throwing these things,” she told me later, “even though I hardly get to talk to anyone for long.” Sure—that’s part of the fun.

And so the year came to a close as it began—with parties to celebrate the community that both inspires and infuriates us. It’s smart, it’s rich, it’s perplexing, pretty, embarrassing, forgiving, serious, silly, stupendous, loving—and bigger than ever. Let’s hope 2014 is the year it decides to make a difference.

Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips and artist Sarah Sze. Right: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple and artist Uri Aran.

Left: Collector Andrew Fabrikant and Whitney curator Donna De Salvo. Right: Musician Lizzie Bougatsos with Interview editor Christopher Bollen.

Left: PR specialist Elizabeth Kubany with dealers Scooter LaForge and Mary Boone. Right: Artists Elizabeth Peyton and T. J. Wilcox.

Left: Art historian Hal Foster and artist Pattie Cronin. Right: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach and artist Lisa Yuskavage.

Left: Artists Marilyn Minter and Nancy Dwyer. Right: Writer Lynne Tillman with dancer Steven Raker and singer Jenni Muldaur.

Left: White Columns director Matthew Higgs with collector Shelley Fox Aarons. Right: Artist Marina Abramović, director Robert Wilson, and actor Willem Dafoe.

Left: Actress Barbara Sukowa and fashion designer Narcisco Rodriguez. Right: Dealer Alexander Hertling and artist Hope Atherton.

Left: Artists Robert Longo and Troy Brauntuch. Right: Sally Saul with artist Peter Saul.

Left: Bidoun editor Negar Azimi and Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp. Right: Artist Shirin Neshat and Brooklyn Rail editor Phong Bui.

Left: Dealer Lucy Chadwick and artist Anne Collier. Right: Artists Susan Jennings and Laurie Simmons.

Left: Collector Andy Stillpass with curator Zoe Stillpass. Right: Alanna Heiss and Fred Sherman.

Left: Dylan Brant. Right: Writers Dodie Kazanjian and Calvin Tomkins.

Left: Public relations specialist Gina Nanni and writer Glenn O'Brien. Right: Artist Haley Mellin and artist-writer David Colman.

Left: Attorney John Silberman and artist Chuck Close. Right: Artist Hanna Liden and dealer Alex Zachary.

Left: Dealers Steve Henry and Alexis Johnson. Right: Collector Shelly Fremont and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal.

Left: Dealer Ales Ortuzar and publisher Charles Miers. Right: Artist Charlie Clough.

Left: Dealer David Nolan and writer-artist Walter Robinson. Right: Dealers Felipe Dmab and Gordon VeneKlasen with artist Harold Ancart.

Left: Grace Dunham and Willa Nasatir. Right: Curators Jean Crutchfield and Robert Hobbs.

Left: Artist Judy Hudson and collector Nedda Young. Right: Photographer Jonny Rozsa.

Left: Musician Lenny Kaye with actress Kim Cattrall. Right: Artists Matvey Levenstein and Tony Oursler.

Left: Artists Megan Marrin and Aurel Schmidt. Right: Michael Stipe.

Left: Composer Petr Kotik. Right: Architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff and photographer Jessica Craig-Martin.

Left: Dia Foundation director Philippe Vergne with collector Catherine Orentreich. Right: Artist Wayne Gonzales and art adviser Maureen Mahony.

Left: MoMA marketing specialist Zoe Jackson with videographer Pierce Jackson. Right: Artist Cindy Sherman with Mr. Frieda.