PERHAPS THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN has prompted a revival of community spirit in the New York art world (is there anything we can’t blame Wall Street for?), but this year’s Armory season—away from the main fair at least—seemed a little funkier than usual. On Thursday evening, having made the obligatory trek around the piers (and office buildings, if you include Volta), I began a long weekend of events both associated and parasitic by dropping into Location One’s tenth-anniversary benefit gala. A prompt arrival at the nonprofit’s Greene Street digs allowed ample time for a look and listen to audiovisual installations by senior artist-in-residence Laurie Anderson before joining the likes of Marina Abramovic, dealer Sean Kelly, and writer Sarah Douglas for hors d’oeuvres. Squeezing into the “intimate” 125-person dinner was, however, a no-no—a pity, since Anderson was slated to perform exclusively for those assembled.
The previous evening’s paucity in mind, I made sure to grab a slice en route to Friday’s fixtures, of which openings at Bortolami and PaceWildenstein in Chelsea were the first. But turning up at the former a little before seven, I found myself wrong-footed yet again. In place of the anticipated throng was a gallerist still hauling out the beer coolers; artist Piero Golia’s opening had been scheduled an hour later than the customary six-’til-eight. But three blocks down, “Berlin2000,” Birte Kleemann’s thirty-seven-artist survey of that city’s scene from the year the wall fell to the turn of the millennium, was already well attended. Klaus Jörres’s Tyco Not Tyco, a fully functioning slot-car racetrack, attracted a particularly enthusiastic throng, though the tendency of the diminutive vehicles to go spinning off the track and into the crowd elicited anxious glances from Hammer-chief-curator-to-be Douglas Fogle and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery director James Lavender.
Hoping for a smoother ride, I hopped a cab to Harris Lieberman for the opening of a new show by Matt Saunders. The room was packed, but the evening was mild enough that the crowd eventually spilled out onto the street in a refreshing foretaste of spring. A shortage of booze also saw some attendees heading for the local bodega, artist Nathan Carter among them. “This is a good time not to be involved with art fairs, dealers, curators . . .” he opined on his return, toasting the currently waning market as a harbinger of new creative developments. Pondering the verity of this meme, I headed east to Le Poisson Rouge for a musical and spoken-word performance by the X-Patsys, a band featuring artists Robert Longo and Jon Kessler and fronted by Longo’s wife, the German actress Barbara Sukowa. Exuding a noirish air entirely appropriate to their chosen theme, “a journey into night,” the group worked its way through a battery of classics by everyone from Patsy Cline to Joy Division, Sukowa’s Teutonic glamour and the musicians’ bluesy riffage making for a combination that fans of David Lynch would surely die for.
Friday’s last stop was the opening night of the Fountain Art Fair, by far the humblest of the weekend’s rummage sales, with just nine galleries represented, but possessed of a scrappy, youthful verve lacking in its more prestigious neighbors. Staged on Pier 66 but extending into the Frying Pan, an old lightship salvaged from the bottom of Chesapeake Bay, Fountain was distinguished by a vintage downtown street/self-taught aesthetic and a stack-’em-high, sell-’em cheap approach. Stars were beside the point, though I was heartened to see filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad making the rounds. Any lingering preciousness was dismissed by the unavoidable presence of a gyrating go-go girl, a stack of cupcakes frosted with the slogans FUCK YOU and BLOW ME, roaming performance artist Coco Dolle, three guys dressed as pirates, and the rabble-rousing exhortations of one MC Chris. The keg helped, too.
And so, somewhat blearily, to Saturday. First up was the opening of X, a one-year-only not-for-profit venture housed in the former Dia Center space on West Twenty-second Street. Working my way from Mika Tajima’s sprawling installation on the ground floor via Dan Flavin’s reinstated light installation in the stairwells through three floors of early Derek Jarman films, and finally to Christian Holstad’s Light Chamber (Part 2) on the roof, I had the dreamlike sensation of returning to an old house to find nothing changed; the building’s capacious interior looks exactly as it did when occupied by Dia. Most of the galleries were illuminated only by Jarman’s flickering visions, making it hard to discern who else might be experiencing the same sense of déja vu, but I did clock curators Klaus Biesenbach, Shamim Momin, and Bob Nickas, critics Jerry Saltz and Ken Johnson, and dealer Elizabeth Dee, who was responsible (along with a bevy of friends and advisers) for spearheading the project. Punctuality paid here; late arrivers were confronted with firemen responding to a petty 911 call about overcrowding. Officials didn’t shut down the party, but they did close Holstad’s roof installation—some cavil over permits. Cutting and running to Brooklyn, I checked in at Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery for the tail end of a performance by Jennifer Sullivan (part of Williamsburg’s “Chain of Love” live art evening). As Fountain was to the Armory, so “Ladies Night Live” was to X, and the memory of Sullivan accompanying Brina Thurston’s video of her own colonoscopy with a tremulous karaoke rendition of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” isn’t likely to fade anytime soon.
While von Nichtssagend’s Rob Hult, Ingrid Bromberg Kennedy, and Sam Wilson continue to make the most of a small space, Pierogi’s Joe Amrhein evidently feels that the time is right for expansion; he’s taken over a former factory boiler room on North Fourteenth Street, retaining his longtime HQ on North Ninth. The opening was crammed, artist Daniel Zeller echoing Carter’s belief that, creatively, there’s no time like the otherwise troublesome present. As the crowd ebbed and flowed between the lofty gallery and the adjacent bar and bowling alley, I surfed back to Manhattan for the weekend’s last hurrah, a party organized by James Fuentes and the Swiss Institute. In a grungy second-floor loft on Canal Street, any worries about the health of the market and the state of art melted away as the sake flowed and rapper George Positive took to the area-where-a-stage-might-be, reaching for the ceiling like the only way was up.