Show Boat

New York

Left: Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi. Right: The Lieb House.

TWO MONTHS AGO, when architect Frederic Schwartz learned that the Lieb House—one of Pritzker Prize–winning architect Robert Venturi’s earliest buildings and an icon of postmodernism—was slated for demolition by developers, his reflexive response took the form of a question: “How much?” Too much for him alone, it turned out. But with the help of Venturi’s son, Jim, he tracked down a couple of Venturi aficionados who eagerly accepted an unusual proposal: The house would be lifted off its original beachfront lot in Barnegat Light, New Jersey, where it had stood for exactly forty years, and floated by barge up to the new owner’s property in Glen Cove on the North Shore of Long Island. There it would sit beside the buyer’s other prize architectural possession: another Venturi house, this one from 1987.

Last Thursday night, three generations of house owners gathered together amid Lieb House blueprints hung from the narrow confines of Steven Holl’s Storefront for Art and Architecture (where the decision to mount an exhibition on the house had been made “just ten days ago,” according to Storefront director Joseph Grima). The homeowners reminisced about their days living in Barnegat Light and showered encomiums on Denise Scott Brown (Venturi’s wife and partner in the firm) and Venturi himself who, at eighty-three, was making a rare public appearance. Two of the owners fell in love with Venturi’s work only after they had purchased homes by the architect. “I had no idea it was a Venturi house,” recalled Sheila Ellman of the Barnegat Light property. “All these people came knocking on the door to see it. They said, ‘You didn’t know what this was?’” “Robert Venturi?” she remembered exclaiming. “I love him!” Dermatologist Debra Sarnoff and her plastic-surgeon husband, Robert Gotkin, the Lieb House’s newest owners, had never heard of the Venturis when they purchased their “boat-shaped” home in Glen Cove. They’ve since become collectors of the architect’s home furnishings. While Sarnoff refused to divulge just how many first editions of Learning from Las Vegas she now owns, she wasn’t shy about showcasing her newly acquired Venturi-speak, describing Lieb House as “a modest little shack—it doesn’t even look like a ‘decorated shed.’” Sarnoff wasn’t the only one riffing on the Venturi canon. When the younger Venturi presented the senior architect with his plan to move Lieb House into an unfamiliar context, Venturi invoked his own manifesto from 1966: “Let’s do it; I’m all for ‘complexity and contradiction.’”

Early the next morning, everyone convened again, this time at the South Street Seaport, to watch the house coast up the East River en route to its destination. Gotkin and Sarnoff, impeccably dressed at 7 AM, courted the news cameras as the bleary-eyed crowd of architects and buffs nursed coffees and awaited the signal that the barge was near. When word came, everyone rushed outside and into the particularly cold March air, straining to find the house through scopes and digital cameras. “I’m just going to trust my own eyes,” asserted Scott Brown, dismissing a coin-operated telescope installed at the pier’s edge. “Look at the nine,” Venturi quietly exclaimed when the house, and its Pop-art-inspired, five-foot-high number 9, came into view. The crowd grew hushed. While there was something absurd about the juxtaposition of the little house bobbing up and down beside the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, Scott Brown found pedagogical value in the spectacle. “How does a little thing like that trump its whole environment?” she asked. “It’s a wonderful lesson in scale.” As the migrant building sped by and the crowd hustled from one end of the pier to the other to watch the house and its tugboat disappear under the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges, the new owners, who had planned a party to celebrate its arrival at Glen Cove, were already checking their watches. “It went by in a flash,” observed Gotkin. “Now we have to rush home to receive it!”

Michael Wang

On a Haunch


Left: Artist Rebecca Warren with Bianca Jagger. Right: Artist Polly Morgan with Jude Law. (All photos: Ana Finel Honigman)

LAST MONDAY, following a short flight from Berlin, I stopped by the Serpentine’s preview for Rebecca Warren’s first survey in a UK public gallery. I’ve long been skeptical of the hype surrounding her untidy and ambiguously referential sculptures (which critics often seem to ascribe with feminist meaning), so I was excited to see how her exhibition stacked up.

Something about the work still seemed half-baked to me, but at least the crowd was hot. The Tate’s eminent Sir Nicholas Serota, artists Tracey Emin, Glenn Brown, and Mat Collishaw, musician Alison Goldfrapp, and Bianca Jagger made their way around Warren’s rough-hewn masses of abstract or vaguely figurative clay and bronze forms. Some were on plinths; others were positioned on the floor. The rest were in loosely assembled vitrines in which she combined her unglazed lumps with plush toys and neon lights. A gruff Juergen Teller wandered around with dealer Sadie Coles, eventually pausing to contemplate a beetroot-hued tartan print Warren had painted on a bulbous mound of clay. Meredith Ostrom, the fresh-faced and affable actress who played Nico in Factory Girl, caught me up on the details of her own upcoming exhibition. As we studied an especially elaborate composition involving miniature clay beer bottles, a skull with snakes in its eyes, a neon bulb, and a well-loved stuffed blue bunny, she dilated on art’s potential to inspire underprivileged third-world children.

Having had my fill of rough reality, I decamped early . . . ish. Enough time, anyway, to get a proper rest before the show I was sure would be great. The next night, I made my way to Haunch of Venison for the opening of their new Burlington Gardens space, in the grand building formerly occupied by the Royal Academy, which they were christening with a group show titled “Mythologies.” I was thrilled to be greeted at the entrance by John Isaac’s gleaming gold orb on a weathered plinth; the totemic ball was almost hypnotic, pulling me up the stairs toward the main exhibition space.

Left: Dealer Sadie Coles with artist Juergen Teller. Right: ICA artistic director Ekow Eshun.

Once upstairs, I had a nice chat with Jude Law about his sister Natasha’s upcoming show at the Eleven gallery, in collaboration with artist Daisy de Villeneuve. The exhibition is apparently a rogue’s gallery of composite portraits of the pair’s “worst female friends.” “My sister is the most nontoxic person I know,” Law dutifully noted as we studied Polly Morgan’s life-size wooden coffin stuffed with taxidermied chicks.

Leaving Law, I bumped into writer Louisa Buck, whose arm was in a serious surgical sling. She told me that she needed to have a torn tendon stitched up after an accident skating. I strangely assumed she meant “skateboarding,” but she disabused me. “What a nightmare, me as a middle-aged skateboarder,” she said. “I’d get demolished.”

Perusing the remaining twinkling and opulent objects, I came across “Mythologies” artist Tim Noble’s interpretation of Daniele Buetti’s glittering surfaces dotted with pinpricks exposing points of white light from the light box underneath. “It’s all about cocaine,” Noble suggested dryly before we stopped to admire a text message on his phone that Isabella Blow had sent him not long before she passed away. “We should try to call her,” he suggested as we watched Nancy Kienholz correct an off-kilter crucifix, one of seventy-six in a collaborative installation she made with her late husband, Ed. But phone calls to the dead are a bit macabre, even for Noble, and instead we joined the rest of the lively party en route to the Groucho Club.

Ana Finel Honigman

Left: Artist Nancy Kienholz. Right: Haunch of Venison director Harry Blain with Bodil Blain.

Family Circus

Los Angeles

Left: Artists Andrea Bowers and Catherine Opie. Right: The convention-center entrance. (All photos: Lauren O'Neill-Butler)

NEARLY TWELVE THOUSAND PEOPLE were naturalized a fortnight ago at the Los Angeles Convention Center; meanwhile, four thousand were sequestered nearby in the dimly lit lecture rooms, present for the College Art Association’s annual conference. It was easy to get lost in the shuffle: Descending the escalators, I spotted ecstatic new citizens holding tiny American flags and frazzled art historians in casual-smart garb prowling the floors and pushing their way out into the upper-seventies heat, where vendors hawked picture frames, certificate holders, and street meat. The latter group wore name tags around their necks (some with official ribbons), and chest gawking was a popular activity.

Most conference-goers seemed to be lodging at downtown hotels, many at Fredric Jameson’s favorite, the Bonaventure. A good number seemed also to be there without cars and dined at nearby chain restaurants like a throng of Rotarians (the ESPN sports club seemed a common spot), while buses shuttled them to and from destinations. Over two hundred sessions were offered, from the obligatory panel on Felix Gonzalez-Torres to “My So-Called Second Life.” There were also tours, film screenings, and receptions at night, if one didn’t get her fill during the eight-hour days at the convention center, while satellite talks at USC, MoCA, and the MAK center turned the conference into a citywide event.

I arrived on Wednesday, in time for “The Aesthetics of Counterculture,” a panel organized by Adam Jay Lerner, the new director of the MCA Denver, and the University of Colorado’s Elissa Auther. After Amy E. Azzarito’s illuminating talk on the Libre commune, I stuck around for a paper on West Coast light shows by Simon Fraser University’s Robin Oppenheimer. “If you got ’em, smoke ’em—sorry I can’t provide,” she quipped to start, and I was beginning to think the experience would turn out pleasurable after all. I was quickly proved wrong: Although this panel veered away from art objects as such, it included typical CAA highs and lows, with the lows (abstruse language; too slowly or, worse, too quickly delivered papers) bringing to mind grueling graduate school seminars.

Left: Artists Stanya Kahn and Drew Heitzler. Right: Art historian Irving Sandler.

It makes sense that CAA, like any academic conference, replicates educational structures: Sessions, like classes, are held at intervals: 9:30 to 12:00, 12:30 to 2:00, and 2:30 to 5:00. Those fond of endurance art might stick around all day; after a few hours I was ready to go. Thursday proved to be the most salient, at any rate, not only for the thousands becoming citizens in the West Hall but also for the 450 eager minds packed into what was clearly the blockbuster session: “What is Contemporary Art History?” Following a round of intriguing opening remarks, the panelists, all from California schools––Pamela M. Lee, Richard Meyer, Grant Kester, and Miwon Kwon––mostly preferred to discuss (what else?) teaching, primarily the professionalization of their students, courses, and dissertation topics. It wasn’t long before I wondered what might be transpiring next door at “Attention Must Be Paid,” featuring artists Sharon Lockhart and Lynn Hershman-Leeson, but exiting this session, amid the many people parked in the aisles, proved to be more difficult than the usual touch-and-go act one learns to develop at the conference.

Serving as a response to CAA in general, and perhaps that didactic session in particular, was Our Literal Speed’s version of a paper, which they delivered on Friday. “Timid and opportunistic, our generation of critics and historians have bred an aversion to experiment,” offering instead, they noted, “minor texts” and “minor ideas.” Switching between two speakers, OLS fervently and yet vaguely argued that contemporary art historians continually attempt to achieve the “first-est with the most-est.” This thought resonated nicely with a talk between Andrea Bowers and Catherine Opie on Saturday, during a day of free panels organized by the Feminist Art Project. When asked about her students, Bowers mentioned that she was more interested in a “familial model of health” than metaphorically killing the generation before or creating competition––a novel idea, to be sure.

Fleeing downtown, I finally went to look at some art, but not before stopping at the CAA book fair, where I discovered the latest catalogues and art journals, all at slash-and-burn rates, the sellers looking to get the hell out of Dodge. That night, Circus Gallery opened “Put On,” a group exhibition featuring some of the artists who had participated in the CAA panel “The De-Centered Practice,” including X-TRA’s Shana Lutker, Paper Monument’s Dushko Petrovich, and artists Drew Heitzler and Tyler Coburn. Outside, in the crepuscular light, I didn’t see too many familiar faces from the conference halls. Beers were slurped, cigarettes were smoked, and we thought, as one artist put it, “CAA? What’s that?”

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Left: Art historians Noah Chasin and Hannah Feldman. Right: A view of the panel “The Aesthetics of Counterculture.”

Dead or Alive

New York

Left: Artist Vanessa Beecroft with Kanye West. Right: Artist John Bock. (Except where noted, all photos: Ryan McNamara)

LAST FRIDAY NIGHT, I saw Vanessa Beecroft’s installation at Jeffrey Deitch’s newish “cathedral-like” Long Island City outpost, then John Bock’s performance at the pop-up Bar2000 (following the opening of “Berlin2000” at PaceWildenstein). While both events featured white clown makeup, they were otherwise yin and yang: one female artist, one male; one way east in LIC, the other in the West Village in what appeared to be Saatchi & Saatchi’s lobby. One foregrounded passivity (twenty live nude girls displayed like undead statuary “inspired by Sicilian funerary sculpture of the Renaissance”), while across town, Bock cavorted “actively” in macho-toddler mode—flinging wurst la Paul McCarthy, splattering beer on makeshift rigs and pulleys, raving in English and German, hoisting himself into a big brown turdlike getup, rushing the crowd. For an encore, the artist shoved his head into a giant lens that magnified his face like a giant guppy and crooned “Mackie Messer” to his rowdy well-wishers. (It would have been genius if he had got stuck, like the I Love Lucy episode with the loving cup.)

Earlier at Deitch’s, near the glittering NYC skyline, the Armory crowd hovered around the perimeter of the Beecroft piece, mesmerized by the naked gals in white body paint, “indistinguishable,” said the press release, “from gesso sculptures cast from live models, resting on coffin-like bases.” Like black crows, the art fans massed around the installation, staring in rapt contemplation of the naked posers, the classical art references, the inexorability of death, and the fact that we were stuck out in LIC and there were no refreshments (except for Poland Spring water). I checked out the crowd checking out the bodies, live and plaster, in this fiesta of objectification. Indeed, we were all part of the piece: gawkers and gawkees. A notice informed us that upon entering the gallery, we consented to be filmed. I commenced to eavesdrop on two young, artist-looking guys nearby: one cute, one weird in a plaid beret and cadmium-red cords:

“What do you think this is about?” teased the dandy, faux-seriously.

“What do you?” shot back the cutie.

“I asked you first! What do you think this is about?”

“What’s the big deal? Maybe it’s about nothing?”

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch and Amber Rose. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Installation view of VB 64 at Deitch Projects, Long Island City. (Photo 2009 Vanessa Beecroft)

“Well cast,” offered somebody else, admiring the high production values of the cast bodies—or the live-real-people-type mannequins, it wasn’t clear. Effectively aestheticized, abstracted by the gessolike spackle, the women were literally ornamental figures, their breath unobtrusive, their movements very, very slow. They eerily aped their plaster sisters (whose hollowed-out heads were a nice touch). (“It would be funny if someone who couldn’t see very well, like my grandma, came here and couldn’t tell the difference!” I heard behind me.) I got the classic vibe of docile women playing dead; compliant “nice” girls who are seen and not heard (“Which one should we take home?” quipped a collector type); paid models at their gig. As an “enactment” of traditional decorative figurative art, this felt like one step up from an editorial photo shoot, slightly more self-conscious about the “objectification-of-women” factor since we were gaping at live models rather than depictions.

“The thing about editorial photo shoots,” mused a pal later, “however high the production values, is they put enough references together and hope it insinuates enough to ‘mean’ something . . .” Something like that.

“The filming of VB64 is produced by Kanye West,” said the ad. The rapper (who’d flown in from Paris Fashion Week just for the event, I was told, then flew right back) and Beecroft, in a white duster coat, black leggings, and bronze pumps, posed for photos in the back of the gallery, near an orderly row of black plaster bodies on a table.

Left: Fab 5 Freddy and Art Production Fund cofounder Doreen Remen. Right: John Bock and designer Tara Subkoff.

In contrast, Bock was going nuts at Bar2000. The Aryan art clown pushed through the delighted crowd as busily and messily as a toddler in garish makeup, hot-pink leggings under baggy red shorts, a ridiculous fancy blue sweater, and stuffed fabric “tails” that dangled from his rear. Hurtling between several platforms, he manipulated contraptions that didn’t quite work (one slapping wurst at an affable gallerist’s forehead from a pulley system attached to his belt), made nonsense demonstrations (“This diagram means nothing”), guzzled Pepto-Bismol mixed with ale, gobbled a dripping wet wiener, lunged at the ladies, and vogued like “Klaus Kinski” and “Winona Ryder” to appreciative hoots from his supporters. (“Too much!” a cougarish woman egged him on, sipping her cocktail and getting loud, as if she were about to have a performance-art orgasm.)

I pondered the mystique of the macho-toddler thing with the Aryan guys, the mythic “idiocy” of Kippenberger, Nitsch’s self-harming antics. The “acting out” gets mythologized, and then the artifacts become Art relics. This Jew admittedly found it disconcerting when the artist bellowed in German as he ran amok. A perky, blond, Jennifer Aniston–coiffed publicist who couldn’t be more incongruous locked my gaze with terrierlike enthusiasm: “It’s a totally new piece, very interactive.”

Rhonda Lieberman


New York

Left: Barbara Sukowa onstage with the X-Patsys. (Photo: Michael Wilson) Right: Artist Mika Tajima, Elizabeth Dee director Jenny Moore, curator Cecilia Alemani, and dealer Elizabeth Dee. (Photo: Shaun Mader/Patrick McMullan)

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 Jrres’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.

Left: Dealer Jesse Washburne Harris with curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. Right: Artist Piero Golia with dealer Stefania Bortolami. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)

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.

Left: Firemen outside X. Right: Kunsthalle Zrich curator Beatrix Ruf, producer James Mackay, and artist Richard Phillips. (Photos: Shaun Mader/Patrick McMullan)

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 dja 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.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artists Rachel Mason, Brina Thurston, and Jennifer Sullivan. (Photo: Michael Wilson) Right: Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer.

Cold Comfort

New York

Left: Armory Show vice president Paul Morris with Merchandise Mart CEO Chris Kennedy. Right: Artist Maurizio Cattelan. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

TO WEATHER OUR TURBULENT economic climate successfully, everyone will have to get very creative. And where better to look for creative thinking than the art world, where ideas alone have currency—particularly when it comes to keeping up a front? On Tuesday night, for instance, the chill from Wall Street insinuated itself into the very air over New York, dropping the temperature near zero and turning the city into a ghost town everywhere but Chelsea, where crowds so recently accustomed to lavish parties and lava flows of spirits banded together for a week of less-is-more gatherings around, if not in, the Armory Show.

To kick things off, galleries along barren, windswept West Twenty-seventh Street threw open their doors for exhibitions by Walead Beshty (at Wallspace), Alyson Shotz (at Derek Eller), and Mungo Thomson (at John Connelly). Wallspace co-owners Janine Foeller and Jane Hait put on a particularly brave face by doubling the size of their operation. “Their expansion is sort of counter-recessionary,” said White Columns director Matthew Higgs, eyeing Beshty’s cheerful, Thomas Ruff–like photograms. “You gotta make art with muscle in these times,” said the diminutive Shannon Ebner, another gallery artist, in town from Los Angeles to introduce her new book, The Sun as Error, at White Columns. Humor helps, too. Beshty’s “artist statement” consists of quotes from reviews of his previous shows––arranged in rhymed couplets, no less.

Left: Wallspace's Janine Foeller with artist Shannon Ebner. Right: Artist Charline von Heyl with artist and musician Kim Gordon.

The crowd was just as jubilant at Connelly, where the darkened gallery was screening Thomson’s new 16-mm silent films and a sound work that no one could hear above the burble of chatter—which seemed fitting for the artist who provided the last Whitney Biennial with a film of a tree falling silently in a forest. Meanwhile, Tony Oursler provided a veritable forest of cigarettes (video animations projected on tall white cylinders) for his new plays with scale at Metro Pictures, where everything big and rich (like family relations) was made toylike, and everything small and worthless (like lottery scratch cards) loomed large. It was a nod to a world gone topsy-turvy. “Tony’s just trying to get me to stop smoking,” said artist Jacqueline Humphries, Oursler’s wife, lighting up on the sidewalk outside.

It was too cold to stand around so I trotted over to Twenty First Twenty First Gallery. There, landscape architect Nathalie Karg was launching her Cumulus Studios in a nearly raw but beautifully decrepit third-floor loft that had no heat or insulation. The hundred or so people attending––artists Rob Pruitt and Cecily Brown, New Museum curator Richard Flood, dealers Tim Nye and Toby Webster, and Art Production Fund founders Doreen Remen and Yvonne Force among them––admired the eighteen pieces of commissioned outdoor furniture designs on show by as many artists. They included Rirkrit Tiravanjia’s gleaming chrome Ping-Pong table, a waxed steel table and chairs with red neoprene cushions by John Bock, and a stack of various rubber tires that Pruitt had turned into a working fountain/birdbath. “I waxed this table myself,” Karg said, affectionately brushing the Bock with her hand. “Over and over again.”

On the other side of a long wall was a bar serving wicked Mojitos, a long table, and, oddly for this funky place, a pristine carbon-black kitchen. The main course consisted of small chive-and-cheese omelets prepared to order by two lines of cooks working small burners. Picnicking guests ate them off dessert plates, standing up and with their mittens on. “We look like refugees on a station platform waiting for the next train to freedom,” Princess Alexandra of Greece observed.

Left: New Museum chief curator Richard Flood with dealer Elizabeth Dee. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist Christine Hill in her installation at Ronald Feldman's booth.

Wednesday, the Armory Show opened to a generally cheerful crowd attending the preview and vernissage, benefits for the Museum of Modern Art. “The collectors have won!” exclaimed Miami’s Dennis Scholl, who then equated the hedge-fund speculators who have roamed the fair’s aisles like predatory beasts in recent years with Bush-era terrorists.

After several hours at this fair, I can say that the nonprofits are working the least hard for the most benefit. The New Museum quickly sold out of its limited-edition Rudolf Stingel paintings and Mark Bradford papier-mch soccer balls (both terrific). Smaller galleries like Marc Foxx, the Modern Institute, and Murray Guy seem to fare much better than larger ones. I heard one collector ask a blue-chip Chelsea dealer how he was doing. “Personally, very well,” came the answer. “Professionally, very poorly.”

I heard of plenty of sales, but this fair has not been very good for art in some time. What it is good for is conversation. Bumping into Massimiliano Gioni and Maurizio Cattelan every few minutes was great fun, especially when our paths converged, at the booth for Reykjavik’s I-8 Gallery, with that of Roland Augustine and Lawrence Luhring (pointedly not exhibiting this year), which spun into an excited discussion regarding some drawings by Ragnar Kjartansson. Watching MoMA media and performance curator Klaus Biesenbach squire around subdued Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall brought big smiles to those few who picked her out of the crowd.

Left: Artist Kenny Scharf with Alexandra Mirzayantz. Right: Kim Cattrall with MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach.

Kenny Scharf’s total takeover-by-pink-and-purple painting of the Paul Kasmin booth was one of the lone bright spots. Allen Ruppersberg’s memorial posters to significant figures in his life at greengrassi was another. And Christine Hill’s Armory Apothecary installation and performance at Ronald Feldman brought quite a few takers to her twenty- and forty-dollar consultations, though I don’t think even the power of her “metaphoric treatments” could heal what ails this trade show anymore. (Even cofounder Matthew Marks jumped ship this year.)

I’ve had satisfying and even pleasurable experiences in galleries and museums of late, so it can’t be that artists and dealers have run out of steam. After making my way through the noisy, rather trashy crowd at MoMA’s afterparty, I tiptoed into the guac-and-chips, wine-tasting preview that Nicole Klagsbrun was holding for Adam McEwen and friends in yet another raw, unheated temporary space in Chelsea. (A recession bonus—plenty of room!) This one was painted white and was empty, save for McEwen’s beautiful and spare installation of fluorescent-light fixtures fitted with machined-graphite tubes and hung from the ceiling on long silvery chains. I see Dia:Beacon in its future. “Graphite is carbon, and our bodies are mostly carbon. It’s the life substance,” McEwen said. Better yet, it looks like art.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artists Adam McEwen and Sam McEwen. Right: Artist Walead Beshty.