Spin City

Michael Wilson on Tiravanija ping-pong at Nyehaus

New York

Left: Brad and Brandon Belle. (Photo: Douglas Ljungkvist/Nyehaus) Right: Susan Sarandon with Nyehaus's Tim Nye. (Photo: David Velasco)

AS THE NATION’S Joe Sixpacks stockpiled brewskis for Super Bowl Sunday, Nyehaus got behind an arguably more delicate sport: table tennis. Seizing on the serendipitous congruence of an exhibition featuring an artist-designed ping-pong table and the incipient launch of Spin (“part ping-pong club, part urban social club, part off-Broadway ping-pong theater”), Wednesday evening’s event at the Gramercy Park gallery promised a heady concentration of geeky pursuits. The exhibition in question was Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “Reflection,” but in the absence of the celebrity chef himself, attention centered on two other players, actress Susan Sarandon, a backer of the club, and one Marty Reisman, legendary ping-pong hustler and veteran pro.

Reisman—1958 and 1960 US men’s singles champion, 1997 US “hardbat” champion—defied sporting stereotype in scarlet jacket, shades, and fedora. Like a latter-day Paul Newman for the wooden-paddle set, he took a backseat while teen pretenders Brad and Brandon Belle—identical twins, as if any further gimmickry were required—kept up rally after fluid rally on the mirror-finish stainless-steel table, aka Untitled (The Future Will Be Chrome), 2008. Space in the gallery was as tight as ever, but the guest list was so press-heavy that steering clear of mics and cameras proved more challenging than avoiding errant ping-pong balls. Another champion, East Coast supremo Ernesto Ebuen, held court at a standard table in the National Arts Club’s sixth-floor library, but the buzz was clearly in the gallery upstairs.

Left: Ping-pong players in the library. (Photo: Douglas Ljungkvist/Nyehaus) Right: Artist Michael Portnoy. (Photo: David Velasco)

“How do you pronounce his name again? Rear-krit? Rik-reet?” demanded New York video host Tim Murphy. (A fellow scribe shrugged in response.) A wearisomely enthusiastic promoter pressed a can of some just-launched anti-hangover concoction into my hand. “Are you covering the event?” a woman with a crisp home-counties accent inquired politely. “I’m an editor at OK! magazine.” A passing Marilyn Minter requested to shoot the photographer’s eyes (“They’re beee-autiful!”). While fielding these and other questions, I clocked dealers Tanya Bonakdar and Stefania Bortolami, design critic Alice Twemlow, and of course gallerist Tim Nye—though not Tiravanija’s dealer Gavin Brown, whose bearded visage appeared only as a blown-glass sculpture suspended in a corner of the room. Sarandon played down her own third-ball attack and side-to-side footwork—“I’m mediocre”—but plugged her incongruous new enterprise with the requisite gusto.

Back at the table, Reisman pulled a sheaf of paddles from his bag, made a selection, and squared off against Brad (or was it Brandon?). A couple of hesitant exchanges ensued, until Reisman seemed to feel some showmanship was in order and let rip with a couple of intimidating—though less than precise—forehand smashes. As this gambit devolved from potentially strategic play into showboating pose, Belle’s expression began to shift from tolerance to irritation. But gripping his paddle like a jazz drummer, the kid politely weathered the ordeal, and before long Reisman had re-retired. “You can’t crank it up in here,” he muttered. One admirer, aiming perhaps to distract the disappointed maestro, embarked on a quick introduction to relational aesthetics. The finer points were probably lost, but I think he got the gist. Game, set, and match?

Left: Artist Marilyn Minter. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: New York's Tim Murphy with Tim Nye in background, ping-pong champion Marty Reisman at right. (Photo: Douglas Ljungkvist/Nyehaus)