Slumped on a bench behind the check-in desk at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 2004 Bucksbaum Award winner Raymond Pettibon and his small-but-perfectly-formed entourage appeared to be less than fully engaged by the Tuesday evening reception. And despite the $100,000 paycheck and solo show attached to the still fairly new biannual prize (currently the largest of its kind), it was an oddly subdued affair. The select gathering of perhaps fifty people included museum director Adam Weinberg, curators Chrissie Iles and Shamim M. Momin, trustee and award funder Melva Bucksbaum, and dealers Shaun Regen, David Zwirner, and Clarissa Dalrymple. Oh, and artist Zak Smith, a natural Pettibon fan. But many others appeared to have been put off by the miserable weather, the approach of Yom Kippur, or both.
The work itself was typical of the Hermosa Beach, California residentonce a denizen of the underground LA punk scenes whose entry to the mainstream was made official with a profile in the New York Times Magazine. On view were drawings combining surf and baseball influences with a parade of literary references that reach from the Bible through Henry James to Mickey Spillane. Fans will love them; others may find themselves lost (though perhaps pleasurably so) in a labyrinth of pictorial and textual feints. Also included is an animated video, the artist’s second, that draws on a familiar vocabulary of curling waves, onrushing trains, and desperate characters. But the results are less satisfying than his work on paper, perhaps because of his newness to the medium. Sidling out half an hour before the official end of the event, Pettibon and company evidently had their own ideas about a more fulfilling destinationmost likely the nearby dinner at Neue Gallery’s Café Sabarsky, the guest list for which had apparently been whittled down to about one hundred of the reclusive artist’s closest friends.
Skeptical that wienerschnitzel would enliven the sullen Pettibon posse, I headed for the former wild west of Tribeca and the canteen that kicked off its transformation to the thirty-something haven it is today. The Odeon’s twenty-fifth anniversary bash could hardly have offered more of a contrast to the Whitney event. The venerable downtown culinary establishment was already crammed and bouncing at nine o’clock. “There’s, like, nine zillion people here. I’m having the time of my life!” one wild-eyed guest bellowed into his cell phone. A last-minute RSVP had left me steeling myself for velvet-rope negotiations, but I needn’t have worried; despite a bevy of list holders and some of the meatiest bouncers I’ve seen in a while, I breezed in unchallenged. Immediately whipping past me in the opposite direction was novelist Donna Tartt and suddenly I was in the middle of an aging but active crowd that could have been plucked straight from the pages of Bright Lights, Big City. (I kept an eye out for Jay McInerney but, sadly, can’t report a personal sighting.)
A marquee that extended onto West Broadway almost doubled the available partying space, and it took some minutes to complete an initial circuit. Flashbulbs popped, mirror-balls spun, and the DJ dropped another pop hit. I spotted dealers Elyse Goldberg (of James Cohan Gallery) and Julie Saul (of the eponymous gallery)two familiar art-world faces in a sea of who-knows-who interspersed with longtime downtown scenesters and Page Six stalwarts: Candace Bushnell, Fred Schneider, Lorne Michaels, Paper’s David Hershkovits and Kim Hastreiter, and Isaac Mizrahi. Goldberg explained to me that she’d been a regular at the restaurant for years. “Odeon never goes out of style,” she raved. “You can sit there for hours, unbothered, while looking for ex-lovers or big shots in the mirrors that hang above your head at forty-five degree angles . . . It was originally a cafeteria, cheap food for starving artists, an oasis in an otherwise desolate area. Hard to imagine now, especially with that chichi Bouley coffee-and-croissant white box across the street.”
Goldberg introduced me to filmmaker Bette Gordon, another regular who regards the eatery as “her local,” and Charlie Ahearn, director of the old-school hip-hop classic Wild Style, who filled me in on his current projects, which include a new series of short films to be screened on MTV. A few minutes later, a grizzled but ebullient Anthony Haden-Guest rolled up and introduced himself with a bow so low that he almost ended up face down on the floor. The quickest glance around registered any number of ludicrous outfits and ill-advised dance moveswhich, after the glumness at the Whitney, was something of a tonic. As I made my exit, Chris Noth, a.k.a. Sex and the City’s Mr. Big, walked in, and the evening was complete.