Gallows Humorism

Linda Yablonsky on New York art in November

Left: Dealer Gavin Brown with collector Adam Kimmel. Right: W Magazine editor in chief Stefano Tonchi, China Chow, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and artist Francesco Vezzoli. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE OTHER DAY I heard an artist call November one of the two “big months” for art in New York. The autumn air is crisp, the moon is high, and the prices achieved at auction jump over it. Blue-chip dealers compete by opening big-ticket solo shows aimed at massing collectors, and nonprofits dive into the money pool with fall benefit galas.

This year, November brought the Independent Projects art fair to a groaning table that literally gave way during “Paradiso,” Performa’s chaotic, November 4 fund-raiser. Despite the serene presence of Kickstarter cofounder Perry Chen among the performance biennial’s 550 guests, crowdfunding here seemed almost wasteful. Strangely billed as a tribute to the European Renaissance and thirteen (thirteen!) “Renaissance women”—working artists and serious collectors—the evening turned on an infantilizing, play-with-your-food performance designed by the mischievous Jennifer Rubell.

Do people ever enjoy eating rubber chicken? That was Rubell’s unspoken question. I have another. Do the philanthropic really require spend-a-lot/get-a-little extravaganzas to part with their money? Will they not respond to a simple request for surplus, tax-deductible dollars without seeing their names on a program (or a building), or posing with window-dressing like Francesco Vezzoli (a Performa veteran) and Charlotte Gainsbourg—the tolerant guest hosts for “Paradiso” with W magazine editor Stefano Tonchi?

Left: Artist Jennifer Rubell. Right: Artist Joan Jonas and Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg.

Passive dining was not an option at the ornate Weylin B. Seymours, a late-nineteenth-century Brooklyn venue better known as the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank. It’s important to note that the gala fell on a national Election Day, and that the vote did not go well for many who were present. So swatting Rubell’s gallows-hung rubber chickens with sticks during cocktails felt vaguely appropriate.

Ditto the action that followed the soup course, served by bare-chested/bare-assed waiters in suspenders and chaps, and waitresses in the flowing white robes of a Hemingway-era wartime nurse. With conversation restricted by seating only on one side of the long, narrow tables, cautious guests were encouraged to get up and toss their crockery in with the now-guillotined chickens beneath the gallows. Performa’s actual value to the city aside, watching privileged people throw away food for fun was a little too Marie Antoinette for some. Later, I heard, the still-gleeful destroyed their tables with hammers, so as to release the chocolate desserts tucked inside them.

By that time, however, Performa honorees Joan Jonas and Maja Hoffmann had escaped to the Harlem home of Gavin Brown and Hope Atherton, where they could enjoy a civilized meal among the artists, collectors, dealers, and curators who gathered with the family of the late Elaine Sturtevant to celebrate the opening of her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

Left: Dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and artist Wangechi Mutu. Right: Artist Frank Stella and collector Michael Ballack.

Both Brown and MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey, who organized the concise exhibition, gave emotional toasts to the artist, so long unrecognized in her native country. (She had lived for years in Paris.) “She showed us what an artist is,” Brown said, characterizing the exhibition as “an extraordinary show in a place she’s always belonged.” In his testimonial, Eleey recalled Sturtevant saying that “to be a Great Artist is the least interesting thing I can think of,” and read a 1972 letter of hers that made the occasion feel like a séance. “Why do you do other people’s work?” the dealer Virginia Dwan once asked Sturtevant. “I hesitate to answer,” the artist replied, “only because the closer something is to the truth the more it has distrust of words.”

Two days later, Brown outed seventy-eight-year-old Jonas as the latest addition to his roster by devoting his corner of Independent Projects to a work of hers from 1976. It wasn’t the only historical entry at the forty-one-gallery fair, which continued as a “curated” exhibition for six days after its November 9 closing. What I can say about it is that I still remember it—not my usual experience of an art fair.

One showstopper was the scarily lifelike Flea Market Lady (1990) by Duane Hanson at Brendan Dugan’s Karma Books stand. Neglected vintage works included 1988 felt banners by Mike Kelley at Skarstedt, 1962 window-shade collages by Robert Moskowitz at Kerry Schuss, 1967 drawings by the little-known John Tweedle at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, David Medalla’s bubbly “Cloud Canyons” kinetic sculpture at Venus Over Manhattan, and career-spanning collages by ninety-year-old Gianfranco Baruchello at Massimo De Carlo.

Left: MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey, MMK curator Mario Kramer, and dealer Thaddeus Ropac. Right: Artist Christopher Williams.

If they all came as pleasant surprises, another work was utterly hair-raising. That was Sculpture Tactile, an unrealized and totally obscure circa 1957 sculpture by Yves Klein that Dominique Lévy produced for the fair. Visitors walked up to a white box on a pedestal and stuck an arm into a hole, only to recoil with shrieks of horror at the touch of something warm and mysterious. (A naked yoga practitioner was inside.) “That’s a slam-dunk,” said an excited Sam Falls, whose sun-bleached paintings were on show at Hannah Hoffman. “Eww!” exclaimed Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs. Jerry Saltz went back more than once.

Dealers of the new didn’t stint on quality either, and many brought works with a strong architectural presence. Michele Maccarone scored with collaged paintings by Rosy Keyser; Maureen Paley with a mirrored-wall installation of Liam Gillick’s film tribute to Richard Hamilton; Mitchell-Innes & Nash with Virginia Overton’s no-exit, found-wood structure; and Lisson Gallery with Access Boot, Haroon Mirza’s rubber room–like, light-triggering, acid-house sound installation. It’s his best, or most accessible, work to date. Bjarne Melgaard, at least, pronounced it “awesome.”

In other words, the vibe was excellent, and turned electric whenever John Giorno got up to perform before his sexually aggressive 1982 text paintings at Max Wigram’s stand. Yet a pall fell over the proceedings as word got around that the building, the former Dia Center in Manhattan, had been sold to a developer planning to convert it to—what else?—unaffordable apartments. (It’s already overshadowed by the humongous Foster + Partners tower rising behind it, and surrounded by other glass-walled, high-rise constructions that threaten to turn West Chelsea into a cold-canyon Krypton.) “We’re looking in Harlem,” reported Independent cofounder Darren Flook. Dealer Andrew Edlin, director of the Outsider Art Fair, is also facing eviction from the building, only two years after his fair seemed finally to find a proper home.

Left: Dealer Doris Amman, artist Francesco Clemente, and dealer Mary Boone. Right: Dealer David Zwirner.

After surviving Hurricane Sandy two years ago, neighborhood galleries remain undaunted. That night, the High Line Art program opened “Pier 54,” its first exhibition to appear indoors. “We’re so excited,” HLA curator Cecilia Alemani said. “We don’t have to worry about the weather!” A very satisfying feminist retort to “Pier 18,” an all-male project conceived by Willoughby Sharp in 1971, “Pier 54” documents performances carried out for Liz Ligon’s camera by twenty-seven female artists on the Hudson River’s last unreconstructed pier. (It’s the one that greeted survivors of the Titanic, and the one from which the Lusitania disembarked, later to be torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915.)

Rachel Churner is a victim of current torpedoing by landlords. Surrounded by friends for the opening of “The Last Picture Show”—her Tenth Avenue gallery’s finale—she gave an affectionate and appreciative farewell speech that sounded the saddest note of the night. David Zwirner took his own shot over a bow—of Larry Gagosian’s ship, so to speak—by opening a show of 1990s Franz West sculptures at his gallery on West Twentieth Street. Not to let anything or anyone rest, he also presented exhibitions of new works—by Neo Rauch and Christopher Williams—in his galleries on West Nineteenth. “We’re fully loaded!” he admitted.

Picking up where his recent MoMA retrospective left off, Williams’s pitch-perfect exhibition included a photograph of a magnificent show rooster with those of shiny car fenders and eviscerated cameras. “I’ve been reading poultry magazines,” he explained, before heading to the gallery dinner at Indochine (which would celebrate its thirtieth anniversary the following day). On West Twenty-Sixth Street, Fergus McCaffrey engineered another sublime pairing—of manipulated photocopy prints that Sigmar Polke based on illustrated magic books and eye-opening works in several media by the late Austrian feminist Birgit Jürgenssen. And on West Twenty-Fourth, 303 Gallery showed paintings on industrial tarps that Valentin Carron based on 1950s and ’60s book covers, and remarkably “soft” belts cast in glass.

“No one believes anything is handmade anymore!” Francesco Clemente protested during his opening at Mary Boone Gallery, where he had painted the inside walls of two Mughal-style tents embroidered in India—a pink one for devilish imagery, a blue one for angelic. Even though a suited-up Alex and Ada Katz departed early (for the Guggenheim’s Dior-sponsored gala), they left only after heaping Clemente with compliments echoed by everyone who joined him for dinner at the Top of the Standard.

Left: Publisher Dorothee Perret and artist Oscar Tuazon. Right: Dealers Maureen Paley and Oliver Evans.

Here, guests segregated themselves not in tents but on banquettes—the art crowd (Brice, Helen and Mirabelle Marden, Cecily Brown and Nicolai Ourossoff, David Salle, Ingrid Sischy and Sandy Brant) in one, the society figures (Anne Bass, Bob Colacello, Doris Ammann) at another, while writers Fran Lebowitz and Tanya Selvaratnam ate at the bar.

At En Japanese Brasserie, the group that Andrew Kreps and the Modern Institute gathered for a post-Independent dinner numbered only twenty, but conversation was so lively it actually heated the private upstairs room.

The following night, Frank Stella sent up temperatures during his opening at Marianne Boesky by buddying up with retired German soccer star turned collector Michael Ballack. Before them stood two very large sculptures, a new smooth and shiny one from 2014, and a twisted, dirty-steel one from 1995. “I love it!” Boesky said. “It’s like beauty and the beast.” A change of pace came a few doors away at Matthew Marks, who brought to light a cache of truly charming paintings by the obscure Albert York, and presided over the opening of a show by Martin Puryear on West Twenty-Second Street. Some sculptures were cast iron rather than wood; one of the former (Up and Over) looked so impossibly soft and erotic that it was hard to steal away to far-off Red Hook. But that’s where Dustin Yellin’s vast Pioneeer Works is located, and where Bosco Sodi found ample room to hang The Last Day, a glistening, fifty-seven-foot-long painting resembling a rough moonscape.

As the contemporary auctions loomed large, the weekend was filled with more action in galleries. George Condo brought his strongest painting in years to Skarstedt. Among the five shows at White Columns were drawings of imaginary black men who never shave by one Derrick Alexis Coard, a developmentally disabled man who has stuck to the same subject for fourteen years—with affecting results. It was more of a family affair at Maccarone, where the brothers Oscar Tuazon and Eli Hansen combined forces in timber, concrete, and glass. Next door, an absent Urs Fischer had a huge crowd doing double-takes at paintings that were digital prints of paintings of digital photographs. And last Monday—usually a day off—three Chelsea galleries opened shows by top-branded artists. Paul Kasmin jumped on the rolling Polke bandwagon; Thomas Houseago departed from his white plaster monsters long enough to install his apartment-size white plaster Moun Room at Hauser & Wirth; and in his first New York show since 2009, Takashi Murakami landed at Gagosian showing a nightmarish underbelly that few have detected in his work before.

Left: Artist Alex Katz with Ada Katz. Right: Raphaelle Condo, artist George Condo, and curator Stacy Engman.

Murakami produced all of it after the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, known there simply as “3/11.” I happened to be with Murakami in Tokyo on that frightening day, the first I saw of the sensitive, outraged, philosophical and political side of this artist since “Little Boy,” the manga group show he brought to the Japan Society here in 2005. Nothing gets his dander up like a nuclear explosion, or the threat of it.

For his show, Murakami dressed not in a suit nor in one of his happy-face flowerballs but in the tattered traditional garments of a mythical character in one of his paintings. Long, prosthetic toes extended from his bare feet. Gripping his head with tiny hands was a grinning, gray-haired, silicone gargoyle with three pairs of eyes, big ears and wire-rimmed spectacles just like his own. Interesting to see what kind of spirit Murakami identifies with—part demon, part enlightened soul. “Happy to see you again,” he said.

So it goes in November. This week, Creative Time will hold a benefit “slumber party”—an all-night soiree at NeueHouse, where for $485 you can hang out with artists, dance, and sleep around. If you absolutely need to get something back for making a charitable donation, this is one way, I suppose, to train for December’s Miami Basel.

Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps. Right: Artist Sam Falls.

Left: Producer Rudy Weissenburg and Design Miami director Rodman Primack. Right: Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs with curator Clarissa Dalrymple.

Left: Artist Takashi Murakami. Right: Collector Maja Hoffmann, dealer David Maupin, and architect Annabelle Selldorf.

Left: Independent Projects cofounder Darren Flook with dealer Anke Kempkes. Right: Karma Books' Brendan Dugan with Duane Hanson's Flea Market Lady.

Left: Artists Valentin Carron and Jacob Kassay. Right: Ballet star David Hallberg, artist Pierce Jackson, and Diana Mesion.

Left: Artist Haroon Mirza. Right: Curator Melanie Kress and High Line Art curator Ceclia Alemani.

Left: Artists Bjarne Melgaard and David Oramas. Right: Architect Charles Renfro and collector Phil Aarons.

Left: Dealer Andrew Edlin. Right: Artists John Armleder and John Giorno.

Left: Christie's corporate communications chief Toby Usnik, artist Marina Abramovic, Kickstarter founder Perry Chen, and Marina Abramovic Institute director Serge Le Borgne. Right: Dealer Fergus McCaffrey.

Left: Dealer Jonathan Viner and collector Judith Miyoshi. Right: Dealer Hannah Hoffman.

Left: Dealer Kavi Gupta with collector Lisa Roumell and dealer Emanuel Aguilar. Right: Dealer Kerry Schuss.

Left: Dealer Rachel Churner. Right: Filmmaker Chiara Clemente and artist Mirabelle Marden.

Left: Yale University dean Robert Storr with artist Nayland Blake. Right: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach and Clarissa Bronfman.

Left: Collector Edgar Bronfman. Right: Swiss Institute director Simon Castets and PIN-UP magazine editor Felix Burrichter.

Left: Art historian Gabriele Schor with artist Marcia Hafif and dealer Hubert Winter. Right: Actor Alex DiPersia.

Left: Artist Alex May. Right: Artist Bosco Sodi.

Left: Artist Corey McCorkle with dealer Ellen Langan and Sculpture Center director Mary Ceruti. Right: Artist Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS) with White Columns director Matthew Higgs.

Left: Artist Dustin Yellin. Right: Artist Hanna Liden and Participant Inc. founder Lia Gangitano.

Left: Collector Maria Baibakova. Right: Artist Jesper Just and musician Dorit Chrysler.

Left: Artist Mary Ramsden with dealer Pilar Corrias. Right: Dealers Lorcan O'Neill and Casey Kaplan.

Left: Artist Pádraig Timoney with collector Thea Westreich. Right: Artist Rachel Feinstein.

Left: Artist Prem Sahib. Right: Dealer Bridget Donahue and artist Benny Merris.

Left: Artist Takeshi Murata and dealer Fabienne Stephan. Right: Collectors Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy.

Left: Artists Joan Jonas and Marina Abramovic. Right: Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Jacobson and dealer Marianne Boesky.

Left: Artists Tony Oursler and Aura Rosenberg. Right: Artists Sarah Parke and Mark Barrow with dealer and Independent Projects cofounder Elizabeth Dee.

Left: Collector Don Rubell with artist Rashid Johnson. Right: Damiana Leoni and Alba Clemente.

Left: Dealer John Riepenhoff. Right: Dealer Sam Orlofsky.

Left: Publisher Dorothee Perret and artist K8 Hardy. Right: Dealers Jose Martos and Marc Blondeau.

Left: LA MoCA curator Bennett Simpson. Right: Dealer Jack Shainman.

Left: Rose Dergan with artist Will Cotton and collector Nedda Young. Right: Poet Brenda Shaughnessy and artist Jessica Rankin.