As You Wish

New York

Left: Artist Rivane Neuenschwander. Right: MoMA PS1 trustee Philip E. Aarons, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and New Museum trustee Shelley Fox Aarons. (All photos: David X. Prutting/Patrick McMullan)

I WISH LIFE WAS EASY; I WISH FOR INNER PEACE; I WISH FOR A HOLIDAY ON THE BEACH. The last of these pleas—all samplings from Rivane Neuenschwander’s participatory installation Eu desejo o seu desejo (I Wish Your Wish)—seemed not only the most achievable ambition but also the most timely, as guests arriving late to the Brazilian artist’s Tuesday night opening at the New Museum looked distinctly soggy after a summer storm. The mottos were printed on ribbons arranged around the walls of the lobby, and viewers were invited to take and wear one in exchange for suggestions of their own. If scoping outfits (and there were some highly styled ensembles around) failed as a guide to attendees’ personalities, these wordy accessories were helpful backups. Should I go for I WISH FOR A MARGARITA IN MY FAVORITE BAR IN MEXICO, I pondered, or was I more of an I WISH OBAMA COULD BE RE-ELECTED type?

I clocked critic Paul Laster and curators Matthew Higgs and Clarissa Dalrymple among the VIPs (entrance to the event was staggered so that the toffs could slope off in time for dinner, leaving the kids to party in the Sky Room all the way ’til 10 PM), but all were keeping their desires to themselves. Neuenschwander’s third-floor work Primeiro amor (First Love) also promised more than it delivered in the all-too-controlled setting. For this bit of interactivity, a sketch artist had been hired to render crushes from back in the day based only on participants’ remembered descriptions, but the pace was understandably slow and there were no revealing captions. Still, it was fun to watch the expressions of mingled nostalgia and horror that crossed the faces of one or two guinea pigs.

Left: Artist Eli Sudbrack. Right: Producer Carlos Quirarte, actor Justin Theroux, and artists Hanna Liden and Nate Lowman.

There was something a little odd about the dinner that followed. It wasn’t the surroundings, the enjoyably shabby-luxe Jane hotel. And it wasn’t the guests, most of whom were familiar from the opening (artist Steve Miller being one chatty exception). No, it was the food itself, which, though it looked lovely, tasted a little, well, flat. The fault lay not with chefs Benedetto Bartolotta and Patrick Kriss, however, but with the ingredients they had to work with. These were derived from a shopping list, written in English, that Neuenschwander had found in a Frankfurt supermarket. The resulting Iron Chef–style cook-off was billed as a re-creation of the artist’s performance Gastronomic Translations. As New Museum director Lisa Phillips noted, it made for a healthy repast—while certain food groups were well represented, the list made no mention of sugar or salt.

“I’m making my way around a large cat’s head that I think I last saw in The Infidel with Lana Turner . . . ” (Perhaps he meant Katherine MacDonald?) Knocking back a chilled cantaloupe shot and polishing off my banana and cashew tart with, uh, cantaloupe, I listened as avuncular New Museum curator Richard Flood took to the mic and narrated his own journey to the stage before launching into an extended series of shout-outs and thank-yous. This got progressively more enthusiastic: “Dude, I salute you!” he cried to one lucky subject, then, bizarrely, “Let’s dial it up!” Finally embraced by a shy and overwhelmed Neuenschwander, he toasted “good, slow food” and reclaimed his seat. By the time a platinum blonde Kirsten Dunst arrived with a gaggle of girlfriends in little black dresses and ensconced herself at a corner table with the remaining eligible-male contingent, Flood and Neuenschwander had long since made their exit.

Left: Chau Ngo, Io Bottoms, Kirsten Dunst, Sasha Sagan, and Svetlana Dilf. Right: New Museum chief curator Richard Flood.