Spring Breakers

Linda Yablonsky on spring openings before Frieze

Left: China Chow and artist Michael Chow. Right: Artist Lawrence Weiner. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

“THERE IS A LOT GOING ON,” said one insider at an opening last week. Probably everyone in New York was saying the same thing. There is always too much to do in this town. In spring, when the dogwoods are in bloom and ramps are on the table, there is even more—especially for the art tribe. With the arrival this week of Frieze New York and its satellite fairs, big-gun gallery openings and the coming contemporary auctions foreclosing on the normal transactions of life, artists, dealers and museums really have to pile it on to distract people from talking incessantly about the market, the market, the market. Art is so many things these days—property, currency, product, opiate—it’s getting hard to remember when it was simply a pleasure or a challenge to behold.

Yet that was the experience of many on the last day of April, when the Museum of Modern Art opened its high-flying and exquisitely titled exhibition “Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art,” the late Brazilian artist’s first retrospective in North America—adding even more life to what has to be MoMA’s strongest exhibition season in a decade. But it’s a big art world that embraces every restless soul who has trouble finding a place anywhere else. That same evening, sincerity and loyalty went on view with the abstract canvases in septuagenarian restaurateur Michael Chow’s exhibition in Vito Schnabel’s intimate Clarkson Street space. Studio detritus, hand-crushed silver, and clear plastic wrap were some of the materials in the paintings. Chow traded one for a candle portrait by Urs Fischer; several of the others will go into a forthcoming show at the Ullens Center in Beijing. All were made in the past two years. “I call this my early work,” Chow said.

Left: Artist Carl Andre and dealer Paula Cooper. Right: Dealers Tony Shafrazi and James Mayor.

In fact, Mr. Chow, as most of the world knows him—or at least the social world in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami—started out as an art student in the swinging London of the early 1960s. That’s when he met James Mayor, the British dealer who began his professional life as the upstart twenty-one-year-old who presided over the very first auction of contemporary art, in 1970, at what was then Sotheby’s Parke Bernet.

“Jasper Johns didn’t sell!” Chow hooted, prompting Mayor to list some of the other BIs (buy-ins) of that historic moment. “A Barnett Newman and a Rothko,” Mayor recalled, before dealer Tony Shafrazi, who also has now returned to his artist roots, appeared. “It’s not enough you’re a great restaurateur,” he told Chow. “Or that you acted in the first James Bond films, for goodness sake! Now you have to paint, too?”

He does, according to his daughter, China Chow, who arrived with her mother, Eva, and siblings Maximillian and Asia. Her uncle David Byrne came in out of the rain, as did Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, W magazine editor Stefano Tonchi, designer Vera Wang, Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos III, dealers Dominique Lévy and Jeffrey Deitch, collectors Alberto Mugrabi and Poyu Zabludowic, and, fresh from the opening of his show at LA MoCA, Francesco Vezzoli.

Left: Dealers Suzanne Geiss and Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Dealers Vito Schnabel and Dominique Lévy.

Some might compare this to an ’80s-style evening at Mr. Chow’s. For others it would be just another day in the art world—say, May 1st. That evening, on West Nineteenth and West Twentieth Street, David Zwirner looked back on the ’80s with the super-group historical show “No Problem: Cologne/New York 1984–1989,” and the Whitney Museum forged ahead with a press-only, hard-hat tour of its new Meatpacking District building. (Once past the entrance, it’s impressive.) LA’s Blum & Poe opened a Madison Avenue outpost with work by Mark Grotjahn; new photographs by Whitney Biennial artist Dawoud Bey appeared at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery; Jorinde Voigt showed almost heroic, pseudoscientific drawings of the taxonomy of love at David Nolan; Norwegian Ida Ekblad pinned carefree, postfolklore paintings to the walls of Greene Naftali; Fred Tomaselli brought collaged paintings to James Cohan that resulted, the artist said, from the “social Darwinism” of current events; and that Darwinian scourge Walton Ford drew the big crowds to Paul Kasmin for his grand, annotated watercolors of almost-extinct and never-were species that act just like people—cunning, ruthless, violent, jealous, self-righteous, and gorgeous.

Rounding out this something-for-everything evening was the quietest and most poignant show of all, a masterfully installed selection of drawings, photographs, collages, and mostly unknown photocopy works by Jay DeFeo at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. The thoughtful catalogue has an essay by artist Walead Beshty, who started out as an economist and knows a thing or two about the equation of art and money but in this case focused on repeating forms. Which is also a way to talk about money.

By Friday night, with Frieze getting closer, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp were beginning to show up at openings, and Stefania Bortolami chose the moment to open a pop-up show in the old Spike, where young installationists gave the place more life than it has had since the day it was a waterfront leather bar. Matthew Monahan’s sixth outing at Anton Kern, on the other hand, was all about maturity, drawing frontline collectors like Michael and Susan Hort, and Carol and Arthur Goldberg to his serene reception. Meanwhile, in TriBeCa, former Deitch Projects director Nicola Vassel mounted “Black Eye: The 21st-Century, Black Identity Experience,” which indeed looked different than the twentieth-century black identity experience, at least in art, if not all that much different from the current art of everywhere else. However, with Steve McQueen, Rashid Johnson, Wangechi Mutu, David Hammons, Xaviera Simmons, Nari Ward, Jacolby Satterwhite, Gary Simmons, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye as just a few of the artists on the bill, it did look mighty cool. “Putting this show together has been very Dallas Buyers Club,” Vassell said, not quite laughing. “It took two and a half years.”

Left: Artist Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover and artist Dara Friedman.

Up on Leroy Street, Gavin Brown presided over the last May exhibition his gallery would present in its current home. Like Lehmann Maupin’s, the building will be razed by this time next year, so yet another group of glass towers can go up there. Real estate development has become the new sex, it seems. Remember when the people being pushed out of neighborhoods they pioneered were artists? Now it’s the dealers.

It was far less depressing to contemplate the knock ’em, sock ’em punch of the trio Brown was showing—Mark Handforth, Kerstin Brätsch, and Mark Leckey. Brätsch celebrated by shopping at Dover Street Market just before the reception, and dressing in Rick Owens sneakers and a Saint Laurent track suit. “I feel like I just got out of bed and got dressed, and it happened to be my opening,” she said. Brown, for his part, celebrated his eleven years on Leroy Street by raising a glass to the past because, he said, “We wouldn’t be here without it. It’s always a surprise when things work out.”

Left: Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick with artist Mark Handforth. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone.

Things do, though, because they have to. On Saturday afternoon, Keith Haring’s parents, two of his siblings, a niece, and a grandniece were the guests of honor at a lunch Barbara Gladstone gave on the Nomad Hotel rooftop for the Haring show opening at her Twenty-Fourth Street gallery that afternoon, twenty-five years after the artist’s death. Allen Haring recalled going with his wife, Joan, and their famous son on a European tour of his 1988 exhibitions. “Keith must have known the end was coming,” Mr. Haring said. When we got back, he said, ‘OK, now you know how to do this.’ As if he knew we would be on our own.”

Except in the art world, one is never really out there alone. Take the case of Carl Andre, one of the most significant sculptors in contemporary art and a pariah in New York since the 1985 death of his third wife, Ana Mendieta. Though he was acquitted of any responsibility, suspicion always reigned high in these parts—and still does—while Andre remained a superstar in Europe. On Sunday, the Dia Foundation forced a reckoning with the man’s work, at least, by presenting the opening of its first American retrospective in more than thirty years as its spring benefit at Dia:Beacon, organized by former Dia director Philippe Vergne with Dia curator Yasmil Raymond. Andre’s game-changing flat and stacked sculpture could not have found a better environment than under the natural light of this former box-printing factory on the Hudson River, hard by Dia’s Michael Heizers, Richard Serras, Sol LeWitts, Donald Judds, and Fred Sandbacks. It’s Minimalist heaven, where Andre provides, as Vergne has said, the collection’s missing link.

Left: Dealer Nicola Vassell with artist Nari Ward. Right: Joan Haring and Allen Haring.

“It’s a triumph,” said Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong. “Carl, you finally have the retrospective you deserve,” Dia board chair Nathalie de Gunzburg told a crowd that included artists Lawrence Weiner, Brice Marden, and Gedi Sibony, patrons Beth Rudin DeWoody, Marguerite Hoffman, Metropolitan Museum board chair Dan Brodsky, and dealers Massimo Minini, Nicholas Logsdail, and Virginia Dwan. Irving Blum recalled giving Andre a show at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles as early as 1969. “Frank Stella got me on to him,” Blum said. “I showed four floor pieces angled from the wall. Sold two.”

Dealer Paula Cooper, one of Andre’s most devoted, longtime supporters, walked to lunch by his side, fighting back tears. “This is all so emotional,” she said. “I have come to believe in the role that chance plays in life,” Andre told me then. “I know many artists who do perfectly wonderful work that is never recognized. I’ve been lucky.” In more ways than one.

Left: Artist Ida Ekblad. Right: Artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Jean-Luc Moulène.

Left: Collectors Susan and Michael Hort. Right: Dealer Erica Redling and artist Walead Beshty.

Left: Dealers Irving Blum and Carolyn Alexander. Right: Dealers Lucy Mitchell-Innes and Daniel Templon.

Left: Dealer Virginia Dwan. Right: Jesse Smith, Patti Smith, and Camellia Ford with artist Walton Ford.

Left: Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic, MoMA’s media and performance chief curator Stuart Comer, and MoMA’s associate director Kathy Halbreich. Right: Collector Howard Rachofsky and dealer Nicholas Logsdail.

Left: Dia board chair Nathalie de Gunzburg. Right: Artists Margaret Lee, Kerstin Brätsch, and Mae Fatto.

Left: Artists Fred Tomaselli and Brad Kalhamer. Right: North Miami MOCA Alex Gartenfeld and dealer Carol Greene.

Left: Artist Jorinde Voigt. Right: Dia curator Yasmil Raymond and Metropolitan Museum board chair Dan Brodsky.

Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume with Guggenheim Museum deputy director Ari Wiseman. Right: Dealer Barbara Corti and curator Gianni Jetzer.

Left: Dealer Jose Martos. Right: Dealer Alexander Hertling with artist Alexander May.

Left: Collector Marieluise Hessel and Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles. Right: Dealer Vera Alemani.

Left: New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl with Brooklyn Museum curator Eugenie Tsai. Right: Producer Miggi Hood with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Left: Editor Karen Marta and author Frederic Tuten. Right: Keith Haring Foundation director Julia Gruen.

Left: Daphne Guinness (left). Right: Asia Chow, Maximillian Chow, and Eva Chow.

Left: Dealer Thor Shannon. Right: Artists Bobby Jesus and Frances Stark.

Left: Dallas Museum of Art senior curator Jeffrey Grove and dealer Chantal Crousel. Right: Artist Spencer Sweeney.

Left: Alice Weiner and Linda Haacke. Right: Dealer Daniella Luxembourg and Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong.

Left: Artist James Nares. Right: Artists Hope Atherton and Leo Villareal with art and fashion publicist Brian Phillips and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal.

Left: Artist Jared Madere and dealer Emma Fernberger. Right: Stavros Niarchos III.