Warren Piece

New York

Left: Artist Georgie Hopton and dealer Matthew Marks. Right: Dealers Mary Boone and Ron Warren. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE AIR OF ANTICIPATION that accompanies the start of every new art season turned to resignation last Thursday night in Chelsea, where throngs of gallerygoers clogged the streets asking the same question: “Seen anything good yet?”

Every time this challenge came my way I ducked it and forged ahead. I didn’t want to rush to judgment, but it only took an hour to make my way through a dozen or so galleries, where I found few exhibitions or personalities to hold my attention. OK, I know: Engaging with art requires an investment of time and thought. But I wasn’t born yesterday, or even the day before, and most of what I saw needed more time in the oven. It was undercooked, or perhaps just warmed-over. There were a few spots where the thermometer rose. Maya Lin finally got a gallery show right, at PaceWildenstein on Twenty-second Street, and Berliner Magnus Plessen displayed a mordant sense of humor at Gladstone, where both he and the overlapping figures of his semiabstract paintings suggested second cousins to Albert Oehlen. But how would Plessen like to be remembered? “Tell them he killed the viewpoint,” he shot back. Well said.

Generally speaking, I saw more people gathered outside the galleries than in. As usual, photographer Juergen Teller was one who did not lack an audience for his pictures—this time of an unaffected Charlotte Rampling and Raquel Zimmermann standing in their birthday suits before the Mona Lisa (and various marbled nudes in the Louvre). Most of the Fashion Week crowd attending his opening at Lehmann Maupin stayed closer to him. Indeed, Teller was looking pretty suave. Having given up beer, he’d dispatched his baby fat with it. How did he win over ultracool Rampling? “Simple,” he said. “Because I’m me.”

Left: Artist Juergen Teller. Right: Artists Vincent Fecteau and Carter.

Inspired (or more likely bored) by the conjunction of art and fashion, I started amusing myself by studying what people walking between galleries were wearing. This didn’t yield any more substance than the art. Judging by clothes alone, I would say we live in an age of confusion. One exception to the rule was Kara Walker, who that day had acquired a new outfit for the opening of her show at Sikkema Jenkins with Mark Bradford. The dress, a full-skirted black organza number by Gary Graham, gave her a silhouette as graceful as the shadow puppets in her new video are naughty. Spirits were high all around. The ebullient Bradford literally squealed with delight on meeting an admirer—Robert Gober—for the first time. “Oh, I know you!” he said, drawing Gober into a fumbling embrace. “You’re great!” Gober seemed pleased.

Back on the street, after a few bites of sushi at the lower-key party upstairs, I found artists Nate Lowman, Nayland Blake, and Paul Pfeiffer with a claque of blue-ribbon Brits on the sidewalk outside Matthew Marks, where Rebecca Warren was showing winsome variations on Richard Serra and bulging female torsos in unfired clay that were unafraid to be sexy. Dealer Jay Jopling emerged from the dark to join Gavin Brown, Gary Hume, and Adam McEwen but confessed that jet lag would keep him from dinner, though I’m not sure he was invited.

Left: Artists Robert Gober and Mark Bradford. Right: Artist Richard Tuttle, poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, and artist Jim Hodges.

In the private room upstairs at Matthew Marks, Brice and Helen Marden held down the center seats at a long table for sixty. I was seated beside Chicago dealer Donald Young, who spotted a MoMA trustee opposite us and expressed surprise that there were any collectors present among the artists’ friends. Maybe that’s the difference between a dealer and a casual observer like me: I’m more surprised when collectors aren’t invited. As the dinner, which was also for sculptor Vincent Fecteau, wound down, several members of the party peeled off for the Maritime, where an afterparty for Teller was in progress in the artist’s penthouse room. His wife, dealer Sadie Coles, tended bar for the likes of Artists Space’s new director Stefan Kalmár, who is taking his job very seriously; a stray model or two; curator Clarissa Dalrymple; Warren; and a few, excuse me, collectors.

On Saturday I set off again, keeping expectations low, but before I even reached the door at Mary Boone I had heard about the nine-million-dollar Basquiat painting with a red dot next to it on the checklist. The exhibition was labeled “A Tribute to Ron Warren,” the poker-faced gent who has put in twenty-five years of service with Boone, first at the front desk and now as a partner in the gallery. On the walls and floors were works old and new by thirty artists who have participated in Boone gallery shows during Warren’s steadfast employ. It included portraits of the man of the hour by Eric Fischl and Will Cotton and a lenticular “family tree” by Francesco Clemente, who identified each branch with the names of Warren’s closest friends. Sweet.

Left: Artist David Salle with critic Jerry Saltz. Right: Artist Rebecca Warren.

I found Barbara Kruger at the back of the gallery, fending off the advances of a tall stranger who identified himself as an artist and mistook her for Boone, to whom he wanted to show his paintings. Boone stood silently by, stifling a giggle. When he walked away, she recalled the time Julian Schnabel, then a young artist, came on to writer Carol Squiers (now a curator at the International Center of Photography). “He thought she was me,” Boone let on, “and wanted her to give him a show.”

Out in the main space, David Salle and Fischl were trading stories, too. Salle reported stopping into Sonnabend and telling Nick (who has worked at the front desk of the gallery for—count ’em—forty years) that he was going to a tribute for Warren. “Why?” asked Nick. “Is he dead?”

What can I say? This opening was fun—and it had art that was done to a turn. The dinner at Bottino afterward brought together personalities as disparate as Barry Le Va, Jack Pierson, and art consultant Sandy Heller, adviser to heavyweight financier-collectors like Steven Cohen and David Ganek. I asked Boone how she hired Warren all those years ago. “After 1982,” she said, “it was hard to get serious people. Everyone thought all we did was serve champagne and buy shoes. But then Ron walked in, and I knew right away: He was serious!” What’s more, he didn’t need shoes.

Left: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. Right: Artist Kara Walker.

The next day I slipped on my brogues for the trip to SculptureCenter in Long Island City, where Michael Smith and Mike Kelley have collaborated on an elaborate, multiscreen video and steel-tower installation based on Smith’s firecracking six-day performance at the last Burning Man. It was worth the trip. Produced with Milanese dealer Emi Fontana’s nonprofit West of Rome operation in Los Angeles, it’s vaguely reminiscent of Kelley’s “Day Is Done” debut at Gagosian in 2005 but features Smith as his diapered alter ego, Baby Ikki.

“The word going around is that it’s a hit,” SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti told Kelley on the way to dinner in an Indian banquet hall on a godforsaken street nearby. “At least no one punched me in the nose,” Kelley replied. That had happened once in LA. “Well,” Ceruti quipped. “At least you know you made an impact.”

Left: Artist Mike Kelley and dealer Emi Fontana. Right: Artist Magnus Plessen.

Left: Artist Ross Bleckner. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley and artist Sarah Morris.

Left: Artist Francesco Clemente and dealer Massimo Audiello. Right: Artist Nayland Blake.

Left: Dealer Donald Young with artist Josiah McElheny. Right: Artist Janine Antoni.

Left: Artists Patti Cronin and Glenn Ligon. Right: Dealer Jay Jopling.

Left: Artists Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo with actress Barbara Sukowa. Right: Art adviser Sandy Heller.

Left: Curator Janelle Porter. Right: Artists Ann Lislegaard and Matthew Buckingham with dealer Janice Guy.

Left: Rose and Will Cotton. Right: A portrait of Ron Warren by Will Cotton.

Left: Critic Amei Wallach with former Rose Museum director Michael Rush. Right: Artist Michel Auder.

Left: Curator Dan Cameron. Right: Artist Brendan Fowler with dealer Joel Mesler.

Left: Dealer Zach Feuer. Right: Artist Michael Smith.

Left: Artists Jack Pierson and Brian Meola. Right: Artist Eric Fischl.

Left: Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs with Dallas Museum curator Charles Wylie. Right: SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti.

Left: Artist Nate Lowman. Right: Curator Ingrid Schaffner and artist Anne Chu.

Left: The Delusional Downtown Divas. Right: Artist Danielle Freakley.