There are gallery dinners and then there are gallery dinners, but Friday night’s meal at Gavin Brown’s Chelsea space was—as cohost Jesse Willenbring’s remark, “The napkins are by Amanda Ross-Ho,” implied—somewhat out of the ordinary. Not only had an unusual amount of care and attention been lavished on certain particulars of the event (or rather events, since this was the first of eleven to be hosted over as many nights), it had been integrated into an exhibition (a rambling group affair titled “Rose Colored Glasses”) such that invitees could expect to be looked at, as well as to look. The repast was also a potluck, on the rather challenging theme of “chocolate cumin” (forthcoming themes included “Pig,” “Cilantro vs. Parsley,” and “Root Veggies Reggae”), though as it turned out, few had stuck to the instructions.
Arriving at the tail end of the “opening” (unadvertised, meaning that most attendees were simply spillovers from Brown’s bar Passerby), I grabbed a beer and reminisced for a few minutes while activity in the gallery’s makeshift kitchen intensified. My nostalgic frame of mind was prompted by the Fifteenth Street standby’s imminent closure, supposedly slated for the end of March. Precise information about this proved, in typical Brownian style, hard to come by, but it was eventually clarified that “Rose Colored Glasses” is part of a range of programming called “New York Is Dead,” curated by Darren Bader, which began last fall and constitutes the gallery’s last hurrah. The press release, however, concentrated less on the trajectory of the gallery and its amiably roguish owner and more on the idea of challenging and extending Rirkrit Tiravanija’s frequently discussed and periodically tasted “experiments with the gift economy.” “Rirkrit where are you? It is 2008 . . . Is there no pushing forward?” asks the press release. In answer to the first question: Apparently, he plans to attend later in the week.
While barflies sorted themselves into diners and nondiners, I pushed forward into the gallery and took a look around the show. Ranged around the walls were hundreds of paparazzi-style snapshots of personalities both well and lesser known (“There’s an intense Yvonne corner,” I overheard, a reference to the far-from-camera-shy Ms. Force Villareal)—remnants from last summer’s exhibition “Who Am I?,” Brown’s tribute to Patrick McMullan—while distributed throughout the space were twenty bamboo poles that acted as supports for works by a disparate crew of artists including Brian Calvin, Tony Feher, Emily Mason, Sherrie Levine, Alex Kwartler, and Betty Woodman. While a Giorgio Morandi painting mentioned on one of the checklists was nowhere to be seen, a life-size sculpture of Peggy Guggenheim by Red Grooms was unavoidable, looming maternally over proceedings.
En route to the kitchen with my offering (chocolate cumin truffles), I bumped into artist James Hyde carrying a garbage bag full of salad, an enormous jar of olives, and a roast. He eventually parked himself on the opposite side of the large, round table (knocked together on-site for the occasion), while I took up a seat next to experimental filmmaker Bevin McNamara. Eating from compartmentalized trays and drinking from steel beakers, the thirteen of us whiled away an easy couple of hours as the odd spectator (most acquainted with at least one diner) dropped in to say hello and filch a spoonful of dessert. A posse of Tiravanija’s studio assistants showed up at one point—for recipe ideas, perhaps—and by around 11 PM, most guests had taken their leave, to be replaced by late-arriving drop-ins. Ten dinners and two months to go.