Dessert Trail

New York
02.24.09

Left: Collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, ADAA president Roland Augustine, and ADAA honorary chairman Lucy Mitchell-Innes. Right: Artists Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)


SO NOW WE KNOW: The other shoe (clearly a mule) is definitely dropping on the current art market, at least by the look of the “gala” preview last Wednesday night for the twenty-first annual Art Dealer’s Association of America fair (aka the Art Show). On arrival, the first person I saw was Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer, whose forced smile indicated he was keeping up a good front. Of course, that’s his job. Mine is to see past it. Early in the evening, as usual a benefit for the worthy Henry Street Settlement, there wasn’t much to see, at least not in terms of a crowd. It was thin. That was lovely, making it possible to hold pleasant conversations about art with dealers who rarely can spare an innocent the-time-of-day during the prime sales hour.

In fact, most everyone at this fair, expecting the worst, seemed relaxed and easy, though some dealers wore dour expressions throughout the opening, which seems awfully bad for business. But who knows? Maybe it’s reverse psychology. High-pressure sales techniques clearly don’t work, at least not on MoMA trustee Donald Marron. Making an entrance, he ducked into PaceWildenstein, which always seems to get the choice location facing the door, just to stash his trench coat in the booth’s closet. “I’ll be back!” he said, wiggling out of the clutches of an employee trying to sell him one of the gallery’s late Sol LeWitt gouaches. “I just got here,” Marron said, turning away. “Give me a minute to look around.”

Left: Artist Peter Saul. Right: ADAA honorary chairman Agnes Gund. (Photo: Amber De Vos/Patrick McMullan)


“I hate this fair,” a visiting dealer muttered in my ear. “The booths are too small to make any kind of presentation, and everything looks terrible. Well,” she conceded, indicating Ronald Feldman’s back-corner booth, “that’s ambitious.” The veteran SoHo dealer, whose single-artist, art-fair material is dependably, if not commercially, best-in-show, had indeed gone all out, covering the booth walls in pitch-black fabric and plopping Tavares Strachan’s sealed, glass-walled kiosk at the center. Inside it was an actual New Haven parking meter ripped up with twenty feet of pavement (and attendant street trash), basking in bright fluorescent lighting. Some people, particularly an artist carrying a resentment, will do anything to avoid paying a parking ticket. It must have cost far more just to bring it to New York—but then where would art be now if not for the grand, overindulgent gesture?

Personally, I like this fair. Limited to seventy dealer booths, its scale is reasonable, its aisles comfortably carpeted, and its attractions sophisticated and subtle. This edition was particularly peaceful; perhaps bankrupt Lehman Brothers’ absent sponsorship was responsible, though I’m not sure anyone missed it. Well, maybe the company’s overindulgent CEO Richard Fuld, who probably won’t be buying art anytime soon. No one else appeared to be doing much business, either. Friedrich Petzel was literally twiddling his thumbs when I stopped by to see the Nicola Tyson torso paintings he had on view. Corinna Durland was perusing the shelves of vintage books that Gavin Brown had installed in his booth, apparently anticipating a hush. Sean Kelly, who was making his first appearance at this fair with a modest Antony Gormley “void” sculpture of steel rods, was telling collector John McEnroe that good secondary-market had been hard to come by. “It’s all mediocre!” the tennis pro complained, true to form. Collectors aren’t selling, Kelly explained, as their art holdings are retaining more value than any other “property” right now. There’s comfort, I suppose.

Left: Dealers James Cohan and Friedrich Petzel. Right: Critic Peter Schjeldahl with dealer Matthew Marks.


Not that there weren’t some thrills to be had, even if of the cheapest kind. I got a kick out of watching New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl join dealer Matthew Marks in caressing the suggestive Ken Price ceramics that the latter had on sale. One, of two pieces locked in amorous embrace, had a very appropriate title: Eek! And I loved playing Mungo Thomson’s fifty steel-hangar “chimes” on their coat rack, left from the last Whitney Biennial, at Margo Leavin. For the recession-weary, the ADAA instituted “Dealer’s Choice” bargains, for single works at “attractive” prices. That put a Joel Sternfeld photo of the High Line railroad weedscape on the market for ten thousand dollars at Luhring Augustine. “We’re just planting seeds here,” said gallery director Natalia Sacasa. No pun intended, I’m sure.

The most startling installation was at Michael Werner, in a juxtaposition of exquisite alabaster heads from 100 BCE Arabia with the late Eugene Leroy’s thickly impastoed twentieth-century paintings (once an inspiration to Georg Baselitz). The gallery has been gathering the heads for a few years now, director Gordon Veneklasen said, mostly from British collections that were started in the 1930s. A breath of fresh air at this obdurately conservative fair. I kept hearing people asking aloud what next week’s Armory Show will be like. “Disaster” was the most popular answer.

Maybe. Asked what he bought at the Art Show, Michael Ovitz said, “One of everything!” and darted out the door.

Left: MoMA trustee Donald Marron with dealer Fredericka Hunter. Right: Artist Rachel Feinstein.


Frankly, things have been looking better in New York galleries of late, particularly those hot enough to make even those that claim to have seen everything blush. That was the case Thursday night, first at Lisa Yuskavage’s opening at David Zwirner, where she was displaying—truly the operative word—a number of beautifully executed, spread-legged portraits of women with prominent pudenda. Apparently, Rachel Feinstein, eight months pregnant with her third child, was the model for one of them, shortly after giving birth to her second. Oddly, John Currin seemed more entranced by another canvas, featuring two women. I heard someone mutter something about calendar art. Others simply expressed joy and wonder. This is why I love openings: the unfettered opinions they provoke in all.

Up in Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue rooms, Will Cotton was showing new Candyland paintings delectable enough to eat, attended by a crowd of literary suspects—writers Bill Powers and James Frey, old book-and-print dealer John McWhinnie—and artists like Cotton’s onetime studio mate Cecily Brown, also eight months pregnant, with her first. (“She’s so heavy!” Brown confided, sounding surprised.) Boone was locked in an intense confab with an especially scruffy Tom Sachs before decamping for dinner at Bottino in Chelsea, where the mood was notably upbeat—perhaps it was all that sugar in Cotton’s paintings?—and the guests included several gallery artists, both veteran (Ross Bleckner) and new (Jacob Hashimoto, Luis Gispert). Battlefield artist Steve Mumford, an adviser to Jeremy Deller’s present dialogues-on-Iraq show at the New Museum, gave the conversation at one table a current-affairs boost, speaking of his experience with troops in Baghdad in 2004. Why does that seem like ancient history? We took a moment to remember Steve Vincent, the art journalist who was murdered there in 2005 after writing an op-ed on the war in the New York Times. And then it was on to dessert.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Dealer Mary Boone. Right: Artist Will Cotton and Mrs. Cotton-Miller.


Golden Graham

Los Angeles
02.22.09

Left: Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Right: Artist Dan Graham with MoCA associate curator Bennett Simpson. (Photos: Stefanie Keenan)


“WELCOME TO LOS ANGELES. Welcome to LA. None of the above,” began Paul McCarthy, introducing his friend and colleague Dan Graham at a press conference the Friday before last, the kickoff to a weekend plump with events celebrating the first stop of Graham’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The cultural press corps was assembled, pens and BlackBerrys in hand, to welcome a couple of firsts: the first US retrospective for Graham and also the first major opening following the narrowly averted financial ruin of MoCA, recently saved by unlikely white knight Eli Broad. Graham, though, is interested in a sunnier side of the City of Angels. “Los Angeles art has been very inspirational to me,” he said, wearing a jaunty Hawaiian shirt. “You have very good vibes here.”

He was right. Despite all the troubles, good vibes did permeate that Valentine’s Day weekend. Over the next three days, there was a lot of love for Graham and the museum. Artist Raymond Pettibon DJed the first of two celebratory events on Friday night, which held an array of friends and well-wishers including artist Allen Ruppersberg and dealer Emi Fontana, board members who hadn’t jumped ship, and the Broads, who received an early walk-through with the exhibition’s curators, MoCA’s Bennett Simpson and the Whitney’s Chrissie Iles. (After MoCA, “Dan Graham: Beyond” heads to the Whitney and then the Walker in Minneapolis.)

At first glance, the exhibition seems cold: the pavilions of cool glass and aluminum, the walls lined with smallish, text-heavy documents, and the sheer mass of videos. But glance too quickly and you might overlook the massive curtained room hiding Rock My Religion, 1982–1984, or the ludic games in the phenomenological pavilions, or a “lipstick parlor” with cosmetics provided by the museum.

Left: Artist Thomas Lawson, dean of CalArts school of art. Right: Musician Mike Watt with artist Raymond Pettibon. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)


The following night at the more public members opening, I kept sneaking downstairs, hoping to catch couples in flagrante delicto in the center of the glimmering glass Heart Pavilion. Sadly, no one seemed in the spirit. On the way back to the courtyard to hear Tom Watson and Thurston Moore’s DJ set, I ran into Simpson and his colleague Ann Goldstein. I asked them about the exhibition’s title.

“Dan wanted a cool, California title.” Simpson said. ”He was in a record store in Venice when he saw a poster for Beyoncé, and it hit him—Beyond.”

“I didn’t know that story,” Goldstein laughed. “He sees his work reflected in everything.”

Graham’s actual presence at the public opening was quite brief. The headlining concert featuring Moore and Kim Gordon started at 10 PM; Graham departed around 9:30. Shortly after Graham left, the temperature dropped into the forties—low in Los Angeles, even in February—though few of the more than three thousand people in attendance were deterred. After MoCA’s recent financial roller coaster, which was accompanied by director Jeremy Strick’s resignation and, in recent weeks, the sacking of roughly 20 percent of the staff, the museum somehow felt normal again, as if its mission wasn’t to stagger through punches but to present important exhibitions of contemporary art to an appreciative public.

Left: Trulee Hall with artist Mike Kelley. Right: Artist Jennifer West. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)


As Moore and Gordon climbed the stage, the public rippled with appreciation. Here, as they always do when performing, Moore and Gordon managed to look seriously glum; nary a smile crossed their lips as they ground out their set to the flashes of dozens of cameras. But there was something oddly soothing to the discord, and the crowd pulsated along to Moore’s sometimes violent guitar work.

The following day I set off for a scheduled talk featuring Graham with Moore and Gordon. The conversation meandered; the highlight of the talk was simply Graham being Graham. Moore or Gordon would ask him some inane question such as “Where would you like to live in Los Angeles?” He’d start off somewhere around Echo Park and then divagate, swinging from Frankie Valli to the musical Jersey Boys to Sol LeWitt’s cat to when Moore lived beneath Graham to the music of Minor Threat and on. After one of Graham’s curious streams of consciousness, he paused, looked up at the audience, and, rubbing the back of his head, said:

“Art’s pretty great, isn’t it?”

Andrew Berardini

Target Practice

New York
02.20.09

Left: Actress January Jones. Right: A photographer takes a picture of K8 Hardy's contribution. (All photos: Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan)


THERE’S DECONSTRUCTION meaning the close reading and critical disassembly of a text according to a Derridean conception of difference, and there’s deconstruction meaning, well, ripping stuff up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the latter interpretation that held sway at a Friday-night launch event for British fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s new line for Target. Transforming a warehouse on the West Side Highway into a pop-up store, the wannabe-hip retailer invited ten New York artists to make “one-of-a-kind pieces” for the temporary venue (described, optimistically, as a “dynamic social space”) using whatever odds and ends of the cut-price avant-garde threads they found appealing.

Aiming to highlight “the creative dialogue existing between the little-tackled binaries of DIY philosophy and convention, craft and mass-production, the individual and society,” and to create in the process “a kind of fashion anthropophagi,” the evening was also an opportunity for shoppers to snap up examples of McQueen’s ’80s-inflected womenswear—provided they were willing to join long lines and cower in the raking shadows of statuesque models. (My own position in the fashionista food chain was summed up when one of the latter casually draped her multiple acquisitions over me while displaying them to a friend.)

Left: The Duke Spirit. Right: Shoppers at the party.


“He said, ‘Do you think fashion is art?’ and I said, ‘I don’t think it’s that simple of a question.’” A seven-foot blonde held court in one of the shopping enclosures as an iPod-on-shuffle DJ quit the decks and the Duke Spirit took to the stage. A tad theatrical for your correspondent’s taste, the band at least provided an alternative focus for the dozens of photographers—professional and amateur—on hand to document the occasion. The more heavily equipped shutterbugs had been camped out near the entrance waiting for celebrities and had found some eager prey in actresses January Jones, Amanda Bynes, and Michelle Trachtenberg, as well as stylist Philip Bloch. Art-world faces were fewer and further between, though New Museum curator Eungie Joo, Sara Meltzer Gallery codirector Jeffrey Walkowiak, and critic Domenick Ammirati were all seen picking their way through the show-biz mob.

Exhibiting artists K8 Hardy and A. K. Burns were on hand, too, as was the curator of the event’s nonwearable visual component, Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy. Cuy and company had accepted a tough assignment in agreeing to incorporate McQueen’s designs. And some of their contributions, it must be admitted, looked a little lost, especially in the cavernous, industrially styled interior. But Daniel Peterson’s photographs of improvised drawings made on his own left hand had a childlike appeal, and a set of sculptures by Chris Caccamise, purportedly inspired by some of McQueen’s recent interviews, had a certain obscure fascination. Really though, the evening’s parade of high-end footwear boasted at least as much aesthetic (and even conceptual) appeal as the art its wearers strutted past.

Think Twice

London
02.18.09

Left: Artist Carsten Höller. (Except where noted, all photos: Dafydd Jones) Right: A view of The Double Club. (Photo courtesy Fondazione Prada)


LAST OCTOBER AT TATE BRITAIN, during the penultimate “prologue” to this year’s Tate Triennial, curator Nicolas Bourriaud invited Carsten Höller to give a talk about traveling. Höller, a longtime fan of Congolese music, offered a meandering travelogue about his first visit to the Congo and the type of decor, food, and music he found there. He showed a couple of music videos and was at pains to tell us that this wasn’t an artist’s talk. It was business as usual, until Russian provocateur Alexander Brener stood up, blew a whistle, and began to babble about going to the insane asylum and finding fascinating music there. He moved toward the front of the stage with his partner, and they dropped their trousers—flashing their front bits to Bourriaud and Höller, their asses to the audience—while making idiotic noises and shouting “Fuck the Tate! Fuck the Serpentine!” Very ’60s, very infantile-retro—but somehow unexpectedly exciting.

Höller picked up his bag and walked out. Bourriaud looked perplexed. The Russians stayed put with their pants down. The audience sprang to life: “Get security to remove them!” “Get off the stage!” “No, wait, what that guy’s saying is right, he’s just not saying it well—who does this white artist think he is, going to the Congo and discovering the primitive happiness and music of its people?” “I’m canceling my Tate membership!” The level and intensity of debate that followed among the audience was indeed electric; who needs a speaker or even a moderator when the public gets to argue on its own?

Eventually, however, Höller was coaxed back into the building, and order resumed. Bourriaud asked polite questions about exoticism while the audience, fired up, disputed whether it was ever possible to be “just” a tourist, “just” interested in a country’s music, without a responsibility to convey the greater geopolitical picture. These were all the right questions, but I also sympathized with Höller’s simple desire to, in his words, “present a positive image of the Congo,” unimpeded by the burden of political misery; his appreciation of “crazy-paving,” blue “Primus” beer ads, and Congolese rhythms was charmingly unexpected in an artist whose work is usually marked by a scientific, almost cruel detachment.

Left: The Ullens Center's Virginia Ibbott and artist Isaac Julien. Right: Artist Takashi Murakami.


During that talk, Höller had also mentioned a forthcoming “Prada-Congo Club” in London. The title made me flinch—do we really need more product placement?—but the venue opened in November as “The Double Club,” a name much more in keeping with the artist’s penchant for twinned experiences (such as One Day, One Day at Färgfabriken in 2006). On the first week of January this year, I went to The Double Club twice with various art pals. Inside, the club’s decor lurched schizophrenically between Congolese styling and generic Western. The main area was a large warehouse-type space housing a back-to-back bar (the “two horse rider”): Congolese shack on one side, slick neon-and-copper affair on the other. Blue Primus beer ads adorned the wall, along with other quasi-psychedelic wall paintings and a blue-tiled area containing images of Krutikow’s Flying City Revolving, the Russian utopian project Höller recently included in “theanyspacewhatever” at the Guggenheim in New York.

The restaurant continued this cultural oscillation. Tables were either well-made Western or cheap crappy plastic; the walls were either Congolese crazy-paving or filled with art, presumably from Prada’s collection (spot the Boetti). The menu was either Western (bit pricey) or Congolese (cheaper, but heavy on the peanut). The third main component of the club was a disco with a rotating dance floor (cue memories of the Revolving Hotel Room, also from the Guggenheim show, and Höller’s 1996 Flying Machine). Apparently, the music is supposed to switch between Congolese and Western with each rotation of the floor, but every time I visited it was only Western dance tunes. Still, the boozing youth of Islington couldn’t get enough of it: The floor was packed and a long line was throbbing outside. I can also report with some disappointment that the toilets are completely Western.

Left: Designer Marc Newson (second from left) and dealer Larry Gagosian. Right: Archduchess Francesca von Habsburg with Sir Norman Rosenthal.


JUST THIS PAST TUESDAY, Prada and Larry Gagosian threw a “Prada-Congo Art Party”—for what or whom was unspecified, but it was the same night as openings for Murakami, Serra, and Twombly at the latter’s galleries. The scene was rammed to the gills with sloaney blokes and bimbonic blond Eurotrash. Normally in this situation, I spin on my heels and quit. But I was on assignment, meaning there was grim endurance ahead, of a kind I hadn’t undergone since Hans Ulrich Obrist’s last marathon. He was there, of course, along with a sprinkling of London dealers, assorted models, socialites, interior designers, fading rock stars, short artists, blah-blah (look at the photos). The guest list ran from Abramovich (Roman) to Zellweger (Renée). Everyone was ogling everyone else; heads were on constant rotation like CCTV cameras. Ninety-nine percent of this gene pool were completely unrecognizable to me, so a friend jotted down the names of various models on the back of a used envelope. “What an apt metaphor for this event,” he said as he handed it back, “they’d all go to the opening of an envelope.”

The take-home point, however, is that it was supposed to boost “art” interest in The Double Club now that it’s halfway through its six-month life span. From my experience, this is the last thing it needs, since Höller’s experiment has already been colonized by Islington locals and Afro-mafia. Even if the intended culture clash never takes place, as a restaurant/club the work seems a great success—a much-needed oddity in the backyard of Angel tube. As a work of art, it clearly beats comparable efforts such as Damien Hirst’s defunct Pharmacy and Jeppe Hein’s Career Bar. But it must also be subject to more searching questions, which takes us back to the Tate Britain talk in October. Soon after that discussion, a rebel offensive in Kinshasa led to a massive refugee crisis, and it’s now estimated that forty-five thousand people are dying every month in the Congo. (Although The Double Club is backed by Prada, some proceeds will go to Congolese charities.) Höller’s venture is consistent with his previous work and proposes an experience of cultural confrontation rather than fusion. But when backed by a major Western fashion house, is it ever possible to put two cultures together and expect experimental dissonance to ensue? And given recent developments in the Congo, is The Double Club just too belated an enterprise to have bite?

Claire Bishop

Popcorn Culture

Berlin
02.16.09

Left: Kunst-Werke's Denhart Harling, singer Inga Humpe, Kunst-Werke curator Susanne Pfeffer, and artist Anca Munteanu. Right: Dealer Javier Peres. (All photos: Maxime Ballesteros)


“I WISH I COULD just curl up with popcorn,” lamented artist Tiphaine Shipman last Friday, the eve of “Lynchmob”’s opening night. Setting up her appropriately creepy video juxtaposing flashes of blinding white light with disjointed shots of herself racing through dark and misty woods—“starkers” but for white socks—she glanced wistfully over to the room where Olivier Pietsch’s pastiche of dreamlike scenes and nightmarish assaults from well-known and obscure films was already up and running. A moment later, though, and she was back to the grindstone, helping curators Christopher David and Emilie Trice install work by thirty artists in .HBC, Berlin’s nineteen-thousand-square-foot former Hungarian cultural center.

Arriving at Kunst-Werke the following night, I remembered Shipman’s words as I snagged a bag of the complimentary popcorn for “Vorspannkino: 54 titles of an exhibition.” I snuggled in to watch the feature-film-length montage of fifty-four opening and closing credits (from Orson Welles reading the names for The Magnificent Ambersons to a sequence of Richard Billingham–esque stills for a film called Mein Papa) cherry-picked by the KW curators for projection at cinema-scale in the main gallery and on smaller screens scattered throughout the upper-floor “kinos.” If there were any Lynch clips, I missed them.

No clear narrative developed; instead, the string of clues and emotional triggers elicited a combination of excitement and anxiety. By clipping the appropriated sections to conform to the limits of legally citable information, KW not only dodged potential copyright infringements but created an academic’s wet dream: a captivating thesis composed entirely of footnotes. Considering that I had struggled the night prior alongside editrixes Francesca Gavin and Annika von Taube through Simon Starling’s deathly dry exhibition about climate change at the Temporäre Kunsthalle, I was happy to be reminded that nerdiness could be cool.

Left: Artist John Kleckner. Right: Artist Dean Sameshima.


Cool seemed the proper appellation for the next stop of the night as well (though it wasn’t quite the nerdy variety). At John Kleckner’s second solo show at Peres Projects in Berlin, “The 40 Seasons,” I found the disconnect between the man (sweet and sunny) and his work (magnificently morbid) utterly disquieting. After working fourteen-hour days for several months to complete the forty drawings and watercolors at Peres, Kleckner claimed he felt “like Rip Van Winkle.” “I only check Facebook twice a day,” he told me with evident exhaustion. “I am so out of the loop. I feel like an anachronism,” he confessed before gallery director Tiffany Noe came to scold me. “I’ve been running around picking up popcorn, trying to figure out where it came from.” “You’re like Hansel and Gretel,” suggested artist Dean Sameshima.

I offered some kernels in apology, and graciously the gallery’s crew left enough for me to deliver to Shipman, who was by then DJing with “Lynchmob” cocurator Trice at the show’s opening. Past the DJs and farther into the exhibition, Stockholm-based artist Gustaf von Arbin created a more morose vibe, with a two-room installation of a cryptic crime scene and investigation area. “Let’s paint the soles of one of these red,” suggested critic Alix Rule, pointing to a series of vintage scuffed heels hanging on the walls and recalling Lynch’s 2007 collaboration “Fetish” with Christian Louboutin. “We’ll see how long it stays on the wall.”

The theme of the night was “surreal.” The wondrous array of work by artists including Douglas Gordon, Zak Smith, Yoon Lee, and John Isaacs (not to mention David Nicholson’s luscious painting of his estranged wife dressed like Marie Antoinette styled by David LaChapelle) was as dark and illuminating as the eponymous director’s own unnerving work. But the all-night vernissage was characterized less by an ominous decadence than a celebratory one, redolent of the moment when Laura Dern as Lula purrs, “This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top.”

Ana Finel Honigman

Left: Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin's Angela Rosenberg. Right: “Lynchmob” cocurator Christopher David.


Left: Gagosian Rome director Pepi Marchetti Franchi and Roman Polanski. Right: Artist Francesco Vezzoli with Miuccia Prada. (Photos courtesy Gagosian Gallery)


THE OPENING OF FRANCESCO VEZZOLI’S “GREED” at the Gagosian gallery in Rome last Friday was inevitably a cause célèbre, drawing luminaries of the Italian art and fashion worlds along with a handful of international bigwigs. Dressed to the nines (and sometimes tens), the crowd crushed the entrance of the grand Neoclassical former bank, vying to enter as if it were the hottest club in town. Ladies perched on spike heels outside the door were saying into their mobiles, “Roman Polanski is arriving!” At the top of the stairs, attendees were greeted by a fake commercial, directed by none other than Polanski himself, in which Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams engage in a burlesque fracas over a bottle of the fictional perfume Greed.

Clad entirely in red velvet curtains, the magnificent oval gallery space was a cross between a boudoir and a funeral parlor; the oversize crystal bottle of faux perfume sat encased in a glass box in the middle. The spectacle of the opening itself was a fitting complementary performance for the work. Famous female artists—Tamara de Lempicka, Eva Hesse, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Niki de Saint Phalle, among them—were conjured via a series of needlework portraits framed as perfume endorsements, their faces embroidered with tears, as in Vezzoli’s prior work. Presiding at the center of it all, Larry Gagosian regarded the perfume vitrine and gently teased architect Firouz Galdo about how much he had charged to design the glass case.

Some guests argued that the commercial for Greed paled in comparison with the camp excess of Caligula, Vezzoli’s star-studded trailer for a nonexistent remake of the 1979 film. But it inspired my Italian companions to reminisce about “Cacao Meravigliao,” an ’80s song by Renzo Arbore that posed as a jingle for a nonexistent brand of Brazilian chocolate. One noted that he “personally preferred the scantily clad Brazilian dancers” to Greed’s starlets. Around this time, some trickster set off a stink bomb in the gallery, prompting speculation as to whether that was the true scent of the apocryphal perfume.

Left: Artist Luigi Ontani and Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Garage Center for Contemporary Culture founder Dasha Zhukova. (Photo courtesy Gagosian Gallery)


Vezzoli has the sort of unstudied nonchalance that makes you feel, on first encounter, as though you have known him forever (perhaps accounting for his ability to seduce celebrities into participating in his projects). “There are five liters of scotch in the perfume bottle—enough to kill you,” he noted enigmatically. “My work is not for sale,” he added. His visage on the bottle in drag (taken, naturally, by Francesco Scavullo) is an homage to Duchamp’s 1921 Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette, for which the artist famously posed as his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy.

“It is not possible to judge it as art anymore,” observed curator Marcello Smarrelli, standing beneath a portrait of Frida Kahlo. “It exists in a completely self-referential system. That is what happens when art becomes business.” And what better place to fete the demise of the market—and the market’s enduring intersections with art—than Rome, the languishing former capital of an empire currently ruled by a prime minister who takes time off for plastic surgery and places attractive female friends on his TV shows and into ministerial positions?

The nineteenth-century Grand Hotel Plaza, a musty classic that appears in period films by Visconti and Zeffirelli, proved a suitably decadent backdrop for the dinner. Guests sauntered in through a palatial marble lobby, past an impressive version of the lion of Babylon descending the staircase and into the ballroom, decorated in Baroque church–cum–fin de siècle overkill. Players included Milan fashion royals such as Vezzoli’s friend and patron Miuccia Prada, as well as Margherita Missoni, Silvia Fendi, Beatrice Bulgari, and Byblos’s Masha Facchini.

Left: Collectors Emilio Re Rebaudengo and Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: Curator Alison Gingeras, dealer Lorcan O'Neill, and artist Piotr Uklanski. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)


Red was the primary palette there, too. In the dark corner of a side room adorned with ruby silk wallpaper, Gagosian dined at a table with Polanski, Prada, artist Piotr Uklanski, curator Alison Gingeras, and collector Dasha Zhukova. Others swarmed a buffet, where I spotted showgirl Alessia Marcuzzi, hostess of the Italian version of Big Brother. August curator Achille Bonito Oliva alighted from group to group while Danilo Eccher, the new director of Turin’s GAM, and MACRO curator Claudia Gioia, former Red Brigade terrorist, lounged on a floral divan beneath naked stained-glass cherubim and gigantic crystal chandeliers. If you squinted a bit, you could pretend you were in Caesar’s Palace in Vegas.

Toward midnight, Fiat heiress Ginevra Elkann and her fiancé, Giovanni conte Gaetani Dell’Aquila D’Aragona, could be spotted smiling and canoodling to one side of the ballroom. Fading from jet lag, Valentina Castellani, daughter of Turin’s former mayor and a director of Gagosian in New York, sank into the upholstery next to Panorama magazine’s Silvia Grilli and Castellani’s counterpart at Gagosian Rome, Pepi Marchetti Franchi, and admitted how grateful she was that she had flown in on the dealer’s private jet. An understated Vezzoli mingled with the fashionable guests, and at night’s end he gleefully flitted around the room handing out the following day’s International Herald Tribune wrapped completely in a glossy fake advertisement for his perfume—the improvised pièce de résistance.

Cathryn Drake