THE POST-OCCUPY art season in New York got underway January 5 with a trickle of gallery openings in Chelsea and no talk of money or jobs. For the most part, receptions were intimate and subdued, though the just-concluded Iowa caucuses weeding out the Republican nominees for president did provide those with strong stomachs (or drugs) with a few belly laughs. Some observers claimed the candidates as the new performance artists, forgetting that the word art does not always follow performance.
Meanwhile, a bunch of actual artists and their friends showed up for some actual art, which looked more back than forward. At Luhring Augustine last Thursday, photographer Joel Sternfeld unpacked four series of color street scenes made between 1971 and 1980, most of it not published or exhibited before. “Isn’t it amazing how healthy everyone looked then?” Sternfeld said, though in the ’70s people high on life, or whatever, were often beaming. Sternfeld himself was still sporting his trademark ’70s bubble-Afro, which is all he would allow this reporter to photograph (and even that, only from the rear).
The group show on Casey Kaplan’s walls, on the other hand, was very now: All the recently minted works in it looked wonderful together without advancing a single comprehensible idea. While Peter Coffin, Emma Reeves, and Matt Keegan were puzzling it out, it was back to the future at both of Paul Kasmin’s galleries, where Santi Moix had covered the walls of one with watercolor murals and drawings illustrating the Spanish-born painter’s Kara Walker–ish version of Huckleberry Finn.
In Kasmin’s skylighted new space on West Twenty-Seventh Street, which night owls might remember as Bungalow 8, James Nares was showing films, photographs, and drawings from 1976 that he recently discovered in storage, featuring the variously sized concrete and lead balls that were the painter’s brushes at the time. Over dinner at Bottino, some guests—Anthony McCall, Glenn O’Brien, Christopher Wool, Amy Taubin, Douglas Crimp—recalled seeing the premiere of Pendulum, a hypnotic film Nares had exhibited at the Jay Street Garage back in the day. “I’m very happy and very hungry,” Nares said, diving into his filet mignon.
Friday night brought the preview for the boisterous return of Visual AIDS’s annual “Postcards from the Edge” benefit, held this year at Cheim & Read. It drew more than 1,400 contributions of postcard-size artworks—drawings, photos, and assemblages. Posted anonymously, each was priced at eighty-five dollars, making the potential take for the advocacy agency’s coffers a good $119,000. Even in the first hour, the place was jammed with enthusiasts for both the art and the cause. The next day, they would line up for the chance to nab a desired piece, first-come first-served, though as one collector told me, those that paid a premium would be favored with early admission. “So even here the 1 percent come out ahead,” he said.
At Foxy Production, artist-architect Michael Wang put up the week’s most intriguing project. On view in his eco-conscious show, “Carbon Copies,” were tabletop paper models of well-known contemporary artworks—by Richard Serra, Matthew Barney, Marina Abramović, Richard Prince, and the like—all scaled to a size determined by the carbon emissions that Wang calculated each had made in its production. (Damien Hirst’s diamond skull: 17.6 tons of CO2.) Proceeds from sales—prices were the dollar equivalent of each emission total—are to be converted into carbon offsets, as if to cancel out the carbon footprint of the original works. “It’s like Rauschenberg erasing a de Kooning,” Wang explained.
Nothing was polluted at Jack Shainman Gallery, where the structuralist Canadian filmmaker-artist Michael Snow was welcoming friends like Ken Jacobs, MoMA curator Barbara London, Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni, and select others to a private preview of his first New York show in seven years. The main event was a new, and deeply beautiful, seven-channel projection that mirrors the movement of the eye as it studies an artwork—art seeing art.
Snow’s wife, writer Peggy Gale, said that her eighty-three-year-old spouse had made the work on an iPad, no cameras involved. As curator Christopher Eamon noted, some old film purists have discovered digital technology and they’re running it to the outer limits of perception; Snow himself had recently experienced those limits rather viscerally, due to recent surgery on a tear duct. “I never want to do that again,” he said, speaking of the operation, not his art, as we headed once again for dinner at Bottino. “I love this place,” said Shainman. “They always know exactly how to do these parties.”
Jean-Claude Baker knows how to do them even better. As he will be the first to tell you, Baker is the adopted son of Josephine Baker, to whom his palm-tree-and-banana-themed Theater Row restaurant, Chez Josephine, is dedicated, floor to ceiling. That is where neighborhood gallery Balice Hertling & Lewis held its dinner for the equally mad Greg Parma Smith, and where I found Michael Stipe and Thomas Dozol, consultant Rob Teeters, MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka, photographer Benjamin Alexander Huseby, collector Andy Stillpass and about fifty others chowing down before the all-female entertainers at the piano. “I’ve never seen a woman trumpeter before,” Stipe said, agape.
“They’re ninety years old,” said Baker, who pointed out “the last big star of the Folies Bergère” as she waved good night. Baker can remember at which table he seated every personality who has patronized his wacky, bordello-like establishment in its twenty-five-year history. Jean-Michel Basquiat, for example, once sat at Table 11 and ordered ten bottles of Cristal for a party. “He paid me with a check,” Baker said. “Of course, it was good, but it made me very nervous, because I didn’t yet know who he was!”
When was the last time you were in a restaurant where a stranger could pay with a check? On my way out, Baker handed me a brochure printed with a very funny letter he had written to the last Pope (“the good one”), who had passed by on a 1995 visit to New York. It beseeched His Holiness to petition the Lord to send more business Baker’s way. “I figure He knows how tough the restaurant business can be,” it said. This was definitely the most entertaining art dinner of the year so far.
Saturday afternoon found me back on the hustings in Chelsea, where Murray Guy Gallery was holding an early reception for Corey McCorkle and Dan Graham, except that Graham had just hopped a plane for Portugal. So McCorkle held sway for the show, which was dedicated to art about public gardens. More Boschian delights were on view at Postmasters, where Monica Cook entered Nathalie Djurberg territory with the horrifically beautiful, fuzzy pink, half-human/half-chimp sculptures that are the eviscerated featured players of Folly, her new animation. “They’re based on a sad, stuffed monkey I had as a child,” she said. “I always wanted to do something with monkeys.”
At Mary Boone, the absent Ai Weiwei had done something with sunflower seeds, the ceramic ones recently featured in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Here, a smaller number—only about four million—were laid out like a large mat, surrounded by spectators who respected the proscription against walking over them. Together the seeds weigh five tons and cost $2.75 million to take home, though collectors with New York apartments can choose a more modest version for $600,000. It’s big art all right, from a large mind.
The only suitable follow-up was the Big Art Group’s premiere of Broke House at the Abrons Arts Center, part of the third annual American Realness festival. Led by director Caden Manson, the Group is one of my favorite theater companies. I try not to miss any of their visually slam-bang shows whenever they occur, which isn’t often.
At least six video cameras showed the live action on as many screens. They hung above the apron of the stage, where an extended family of 99 percenters even more hysterical than the one depicted in Ryan Trecartin’s videos cavorted in and out of the shambles of their house, while a documentary filmmaker recorded their chaotic path to homelessness. Best were the costumes, which ultimately included parts of the skeletal set, including the cardboard boxes in which they would soon be taking up residence.
I actually needed the program to clue me into the story. “Beyond the topical symptoms of foreclosure crises, credit crises, occupy movements, and extremist rhetoric,” it said, “we suppose that the metaphorical heart of the country has been suffering, and perhaps has decided to rebuild the body that surrounds it.”
Was there ever a better entrance to an election year?