Fire in Cairo


Left: Artist Essam Maarouf, Cairo Biennale commissioner Ehab El-Labban, and Cairo Biennale president Mohsen Shaalan. Right: My Barbarian's Jade Gordon. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

ARRIVING AT THE CAIRO AIPORT somewhat late on December 17, I barreled through the thick, anarchic traffic of Heliopolis in my friend’s desert-worthy Land Rover Defender and arrived miraculously at my downtown hotel within an hour. Navigating the few blocks to the Townhouse Gallery, one of the fourth Photo Cairo’s venues, however, was not so simple. The concierge had run out of maps, and by the time we arrived at the space, after exploring every dark side street between the hotel and our destination, the exhibition’s title, “The Long Shortcut,” seemed all too appropriate. Set in an alley lined with auto-mechanic shops and tables filled with men sucking on hookahs, the illuminated gallery compound was a welcome sight.

Inside the Townhouse, the most evocative installation easily belonged to Hala Elkoussy, who constructed a sort of shrine—decorated with ornate mirrors and lamps, red curtains, and old photographs—in one of the palazzo’s rooms. In the factory space, Ahmed Kamel mounted a series of photographs critiquing the fetishism of Egyptian wedding ceremonies. Of course, any art exhibition in Cairo must compete with the mesmerizing dissonance of the streets—an onslaught of noise and other sensual stimulations. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I thought. Down in the alley, a neighbor’s door was thrown open to expose a room that would have been at home in the exhibition: makeshift cabinets stacked with pieces of wood and cardboard, an ancient TV and a photographic portrait, a box of Marlboros, a child’s toy car. Adjacent to the gallery’s entrance, a man prepared to paint a vintage Volkswagen Beetle, taking advantage of a rare functioning streetlight next to the building.

Left: Townhouse Gallery's William Wells with Ed DeCarbo, chair of the department of art history at Pratt Institute. Right: Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni (left).

I snagged a ride from artist Basim Magdy to Photo Cairo’s next venue (and also the exhibition’s organizing institution), the Contemporary Image Collective. The space was flush with works nostalgic for the imagined glamour of the past, including faux film stills by Larissa Sansour as well as Maha Maamoun’s Domestic Tourism II, a video montage of movie clips using the pyramids as a backdrop. (An homage, perhaps, to Egypt’s recent decision to copyright the wondrous monuments.) Back on the street, I gawked at a fantastic truck piled with several bundles too many; the driver gawked back and called me a piece of candy.

From there, I made my way to the Garden City Club, a decadent midcentury building where the Friends of the Townhouse reception—which served as the Photo Cairo afterparty—was in full swing. I interrupted a card game between the three doormen, one of whom ushered me to the fickle elevator leading to the penthouse. It was like stepping into the setting for a novel: the apartment of an Anglo expat living an incongruously luxurious life amid the ruins of history. After a stop at the intimate wainscoted bar, I walked onto the crowded terrace and straight into a cloud of cigarette smoke. Visiting from Istanbul, Rodeo Gallery’s Sylvia Kouvali gushed, “You’ve got to see Doa Aly’s gorgeous video—it’s the best work in the exhibition,” referring to a work at another of the four venues, the Downtown Apartment, a rented space in a dusty old office building. Notoriously elusive Townhouse director William Wells, organizer of the first Photo Cairo, lived up to his reputation and failed to make an appearance.

For a Mediterranean city, Cairo is surprisingly colorless, a quality exacerbated by the gray pollution spewing from the crush of dilapidated taxis. However, the plain building facades conceal rich ornamentation, producing a striking dichotomy between exterior and interior. Once you enter an opulent mosque or Coptic church, the buildings come alive. Such was the case the following evening at a party given in honor of artist Jennifer Steinkamp by the US ambassador, Margaret Scobey, at her residence in an enormous gated compound on the Nile. I had entered the Old South, where a famous Egyptian opera baritone sang “Old Man River,” drawing a connection between the Mississippi river and the Nile, according to our hostess. Across the smorgasbord feast, laden with a huge turkey, I spotted the members of performance collective My Barbarian, in town to hold workshops for their Christmas Eve performance, Eleven Human Senses, at Townhouse.

Left: Artist Jennifer Steinkamp with MAK Center director Kimberli Meyer. Right: US public-affairs officer Haynes Mahoney.

Once our car made it past the perfunctory dog sniffing, we arrived at the Marriott (formerly a palace built for a French queen), which was extravagantly decked out with white Christmas decor. At a dinner held nearby at Abou El Sid with the US delegation, which included Steinkamp and MAK Center Los Angeles director Kimberli Meyer, My Barbarian’s Alex Segade noted how surprised he was at the abundance of alcohol: “I expected it would be impossible to get.”

On Saturday morning, over at the Carlton Hotel (where I was being hosted), I awoke to the five o’clock call to prayer, apparently emanating from a speaker right next to my bed. I bided my time until a little before noon, when I set off across the river to the main venue, arriving at the Art Palace (on the grounds of the Opera House) along with seemingly everyone else. Gathered at the entrance in front of Lebanese artist (and winner of the biennale’s grand prize) Lara Baladi’s Tower of Hope were Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni and his bodyguards, the US embassy’s Haynes Mahoney, biennale prizewinner Adel El-Siwi, My Barbarian, and artist Khaled Hafez. Hafez told me that this edition had been completely restructured to promote a more cohesive vision. In the past, artists were selected by their respective countries; this year, all but those from Spain, Italy, and the United States were chosen by a panel of artists.

The show seemed both fairy tale and nightmare. Just inside the entrance was Paman Pereira’s installation of household furniture and objects suspended from the ceiling. A roomful of giant “corporate” wolves in suits made up Wael Darwish’s Team Work, while a striking video by Adel Abidin depicted a mosque made of sugar cubes being devoured by ants, questioning the relative strength of spiritual and physical impulses.

Left: Artist Moataz Nasr and dealer Nabil Shamma. Right: Artist Kimsooja with curators Bisi Silva and Lars Bang Larsen.

That night, Austrian curator Felicitas Thun-Hohenstein hosted a dinner party at the famous Greek Club, on Talat Harb Square. Formerly an intellectual haunt, the restaurant is located below the headquarters of the liberal El-Ghad party, which was firebombed just over a month ago. Sentimentality reared its head again as a group at the next table broke into a chorus of the patriotic Sayed Darwish song “Ahu da el-Li Sar” (This Is What Happened), led by curator and chanteuse Lana Mushtaq. Just after midnight, the hordes arrived from a party hosted by the Spanish delegation, and we fled the smoke-filled club.

On Sunday night, in the Fustat neighborhood, artist Moataz Nasr opened his beautiful new space Darb 1718 with the exhibition “Crossings,” made up of selections from a show held last spring at Art Paris. From the party on the terrace, we watched Lebanese artist Ninar Esber’s spectacular fiery apparition sing “I Wanna Be Loved by You” in Arabic from a roof in the distance. A whirling dervish performed on a lower terrace; meanwhile, the gender-bending male belly dancer in Kader Attia’s video provoked horror on the part of a macho Egyptian banker. “It is a shame!” he cried. “And he is even smiling!” Esber’s atmospheric sound piece, in which a seductive female voice pronounces words from Arabic erotic literature, emanated from a ceramic kiln in the garden. In a dark room, another Abidin video showed Iraqi boys training to be barbers by shaving cream off balloons—which inevitably blow up. Children from the neighborhood wandered in; the vibe was nonchalant. “There is so much happening in Cairo now,” Jakob Myschetzky, a Danish activist, argued in between bites of hors d’oeuvres. “Politics is dead, so art is one of the few ways to engage.” Absorbing the Mediterranean winter breeze on the rooftop, I contemplated my day at the pyramids, only recently secured by barbed wire. A few days later, Gaza would erupt in violence, underlining again the fragility of politics.

Cathryn Drake

Left: A whirling dervish. Right: Artists Basim Magdy, Hala Elkoussy, and Doa Aly.

Secret Santos

New York

Left: Julie Potratz dances to Billy Idol's “Dancing with Myself.” Right: Aaron Bondaroff. (Except where noted, all photos: Miriam Katz)

WHILE MANY OF THIS YEAR’S holiday parties have been shadowed by a dour mood in step with the economic nosedive, leave it to Deitch Projects to demonstrate that it’s possible to whip up a jovial atmosphere without breaking what’s left of the bank. The downtown stalwart’s “Weird Holiday” kicked off at Santos’ Party House in Chinatown Tuesday night in a spirit of do-it-yourself good cheer, presenting a roster of campy amateur acts curated by Kansas City collective Whoop Dee Doo Productions and hosted by scenester Aaron Bondaroff (who insists on being known as either “A-Ron,” which I can just about countenance, or “the Downtown Don,” which I can’t).

Bondaroff launched proceedings with a video hyping usual suspects (or “fuckin’ hustlers, man,” as he prefers to call them) Aaron Young, Nate Lowman, Dan Colen, et. al. Perhaps force-feeding partygoers with these folks, plus assorted self-regarding dealers and collectors, wasn’t the best idea for an introduction; even our MC seemed embarrassed by the queasy note of moneyed self-congratulation, and whoever it was that bellowed “This sucks!!!” was clearly even less convinced. The first act, a pint-size hip-hop duo, was ushered hurriedly onstage, and the evening began in earnest. They didn’t look much older than twenty-one in total, and sure enough: “We had to perform,” announced the cute-as-a-button rapper. “It was the only way we were allowed into the club.”

Left: Laurendarling & the Ladies of Fakework. Right: Amanda Lepore.

Some not-so-helpful postperformance budgetary suggestions from Bondaroff (to Deitch: “Fire half your staff and buy some art!”) prompted a quick round of shoe-tossing before Whoop Dee Doo’s Jaimie Warren and Matt Roche made their appearance. Resplendent in chip-wrapper-encrusted catsuit (Warren) and burn-victim Santa outfit (Roche), they introduced Laurendarling & the Ladies of Fakework, a bevy of antler-wearing, baton-twirling go-go girls who danced around to no great purpose but successfully won the crowd back from their beers. After a not entirely dissimilar routine from some dancing furniture, the stage was transformed into a game-show set for a round of “Holiday Hoopla.”

“And this is Raven and Amber Ferguson, from Crown Heights, Brooklyn!” Perking up at the mention of my own hood, I watched as the two slightly bemused (and who wouldn’t be?) kids were put through their paces by a big-haired hostess in a chaotic battle against the ever-stylish Metalmags, aka Erica Magrey and Collin Cunningham. (Hostess: “So, you guys are from out of town? I heard you were from outer space, actually.” Magrey: “That’s right. We met on an orbiting station.”) Ultimately triumphant, the Fergusons smiled graciously to their extraterrestrial competitors and left the stage in a shower of glitter, cheered on by the likes of Ryan McGinley, Terence Koh, and Mike Smith.

From here on out, it’s single images that stick in the memory. There was, for example, that pair of interpretive dancers—one corpulent, one not so—and that devil-horned Santa astride a giant pantomime donkey. Then there was that folky singer insisting that we “listen for just two minutes” because we “might learn something” and that Lady Liberty–hosted “Mount Rushmore Staring Contest.” And what about that senior couple looking mildly traumatized as admirers flocked around Amanda Lepore, or Deitch himself installed discreetly at the back of the room, playing his customary indulgent-parent role? One late act, a dance to Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” performed by the star of Laurel Nakadate’s upcoming feature film Stay the Same Never Change (and her dummy double), was something of a highlight, but the announcement that followed—“Now welcome the New York Ukulele Ensemble!”—had me scrambling for the door. Happy holidays.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artist Jaimie Warren (left). Right: Designer Peggy Noland.

A Farewell to Arms

New York

Left: Artist Brice Marden and Rivington Arms's Mirabelle Marden. Right: Arden Wohl with Rivington Arms's Melissa Bent. (All photos: Ryan McNamara)

MEMORIES OF RIVINGTON ARMS form a palimpsest: the old, bright white gallery space on Rivington Street; cadged to-go margaritas in Styrofoam cups from the Hat down the street; the ever-present opening sidewalk sprawl. There were the close quarters; the move north, to Joey Ramone Place, just off the Bowery; dinners at Kelly & Ping; the casual, louche booths at sundry art fairs; the parade of ghostly artists now gone from the gallery; and the familiar presence of those who stayed. A phalanx of Rivington Arms veterans, past and present, guarded the door Thursday night at the gallery’s last-ever opening, for “Geraniums,” the debut solo show by the young New York–based artist Uri Aran: Darren Bader, Lansing-Dreiden, Mathew Cerletty, John Finneran, and, of course, the two dealers themselves, Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden, champagne very much in hand.

Rivington Arms, a gallery known since it opened in 2001 for a steady, Argus-eyed prescience, will now take the lead once more and close in January. Not that we were meant to mourn: “Make it sound fun!” said Marden, laughing off my suggestion that the torrential rain and freezing cold outside had somehow conspired to push the gallery off, Viking-style, on a watery, storm-tossed pyre. “We’re too young to die.”

This was a fact no one had told Aran, whose diffuse work—a neon dolphin hung on the wall; scattered, smudged billiard balls on a table; and a wooden desk, drawers out, tilted on its side and giving birth to a scrolling, electric-powered mock aquarium—included actual, if minuscule, jets of flame surrounding a canister of fish food on a rear pedestal. The presence of free-flowing gas, and of certain artists smoking nearby in the spirit of revelers celebrating their last night in a condemned building, threatened to dovetail in a theatrical, premature, and unintentionally fiery finale: not the send-off anyone had in mind.

Left: Artists Elizabeth Neel and Uri Aran. Right: Artists Mathew Cerletty, John Finneran, and Darren Bader.

Bader—sometime Rivington Arms curator, artist, and ubiquitous friend—copped to being only “one-third” nostalgic. The other two-thirds? “Horny” and, looking out on the deluge outside, “wet.” Cerletty, when pressed, went for “end of an era.” (Somebody had to say it, I guess.) Other artists (Elizabeth Neel, Matt Keegan, Hope Atherton, Jeremy Eilers, Georgia Sagri, Ronnie Bass, and Davis Rhodes) and dealers (Gavin Brown, Casey Kaplan, RENTAL’s Joel Mesler, Museum 52’s Matthew Dipple) stopped by to pay their respects. Over the years, “you get used to the repetition,” said Marden, gazing around. “It hasn’t really sunk in.”

It was indeed hard to be particularly sentimental walking the long blocks between the gallery and its after-party, at the Pink Pony, as heretofore unknown Houston Street headwinds and river formations blasted away anything but the desire to be dry and indoors. In the back of the restaurant, friends clustered in booths. Aran beamed in the corner. “They’ve been so kind,” the artist said, gesturing over to the head table, where Mirabelle and Melissa were holding court. What were his plans now that his newfound gallery was vanishing? “Make a lot of work,” he said, and, in the immediate short term, “Try not to get too drunk.”

Family (Brice and Helen and Melia Marden, Eliza Bent) circled around. The liquor ran out, mercifully, just before things got maudlin. The familiarity of the scene was its own kind of reassurance: This was the exact same gathering of friends that, over the past seven years, had become something solid and reliable. There would be a next time. Cerletty, making for the door, paused to bid his now-former reps farewell: “There’s another party where we all hug each other and stuff, right?”

Zach Baron

Left: Mirabelle Marden, Uri Aran, and Melissa Bent. Right: The crowd at Rivington Arms.

Acid House

New York

Rick Moody and Tom Wolfe. (All photos: David Velasco)

DURING THE Q&A at the end of Tom Wolfe’s fortieth-anniversary discussion of his gonzoid Merry Pranksters travelogue The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe was asked about his opinion of Gus Van Sant’s forthcoming film adaptation. Wolfe replied, “Films that try to capture trips—hallucinations—always fail miserably.” As counterexamples raced through my mind—David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, hell, the Monkees’ Head—I found myself thinking, “Polite, laudatory conversations for the NPR set at Symphony Space aren’t exactly a freezer bag of ’shrooms, either.”

I had high-ish hopes for last Wednesday evening, further piqued when my editor told me that the publicist had asked us to arrive forty minutes before showtime so he could “set us up.” Would we be dosed? Would our faces be painted in Day-Glo colors? Would there be, as at the end of Blake Edwards’s The Party, elephants, bubbles, and Claudine Longet? At the very least, would there be a chaotic, immersive multimedia environment, like the ones the Pranksters created for their proto-rave acid tests using microphones, Echoplexes, overhead projectors, oil-emulsion slides, etc.?

Sadly, no. Symphony Space’s red and blue deco-and-girders interior was mildly gaudy but hadn’t been tricked out in any special way for the occasion. Rick Moody, Wolfe’s interlocutor for the evening, may as well have been interviewing E. L. Doctorow. This seemed emblematic of the blandly liberal, culturally cautious Upper West Side. The only “setup” I received was a seat at the back of the house. I took it and settled in for the duration.

After introductions by the venue’s creative director, Wolfe and Moody emerged onstage—Wolfe in one of his several hundred white suits, Moody in a black scully. Just before Tony Award–winning actor René Auberjonois was to read an excerpt, Wolfe said, “Nothing I’ve written will sound as good as this.” Auberjonois did sound good as he performed a passage about the Pranksters’ test drive of their garishly painted, media-augmented school bus, dubbed “Furthur,” though he lacked the unhinged, maniacal glee the book’s subject and voice require.

Rick Moody, Tom Wolfe, and René Auberjonois.

Moody told Wolfe that Acid Test was a “paradigm shift” for him as a young reader, exhibiting “excellence” in both its “exuberant language and punctuation” and its reported narrative. In a light southern accent peppered with dry-mouth clicks, Wolfe described the genesis of the project—his exposure to the letters that king Prankster and novelist Ken Kesey had written to old friend Larry McMurtry while the former was on the lam in Mexico. The evening peaked early (for me) with this revelation: Wolfe constructed his uncannily convincing, fly-on-the-blotter-sheet account of the Pranksters’ 1964 cross-country bus trip retroactively, after extensive interviews and a thorough examination of the group’s film and audio archives. Later in the discussion, Wolfe noted that Hunter S. Thompson once said, “I actually live this, Tom Wolfe writes about it.” Wolfe conceded this as true, and it is a testament to his scarily empathetic imagination as a young reporter.

Calling his book a “picture of a primary religion at its starting point,” Wolfe compared Kesey on meeting him in a California jail to Jesus and Zoroaster, and the Pranksters, who were in attendance at this first meeting, to the Apostles. Kesey spoke to them in parables, Wolfe said, and the acid-fueled Pranksters spread the gospel of psychic freedom across the country, sparking the hippie counterculture. He hastened to add, however, that Kesey was not an Indian-style guru, teaching silent meditation and trance-induced enlightenment: “He was loud. His text wasn’t the Bhagavad Gita; it was Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange.” Wolfe hadn’t read One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest when he began his reporting but was tremendously impressed when he did. He recalled Kesey telling him, “Writers are recorders of earthquakes that happen far away. On acid, you’re the lightning rod—it’s all flowing through you.”

Asked by Moody why the Pranksters allowed a suit-wearing straight who eschewed LSD to hang out with them, Wolfe replied, “I’m not overbearing,” adding that Kesey hated “weekend hipsters” so much that he would weed them out by suggesting naked motorcycle rides down California’s twisting, two-lane Route 1. He recalled how Kesey once tried to persuade him to partake in the psychedelic sacrament by saying, “Why don’t you put down that pen and paper and just be here?” Wolfe said he considered it for about seventeen seconds but declined. Due to the chasm of taste and predilection separating Wolfe from the Pranksters, reporting the book was “not fun—I was so far ‘off the bus’ it wasn’t funny.”

It should be noted that while Wolfe has written some indisputably brilliant books, he is given, these days, to saying some staggeringly stupid things. Noting how the psychedelic era turned out to be “novel-proof,” he went on a silly soliloquy about how no novelist could imagine Paris Hilton’s life story. Didn’t Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel virtually invent Paris Hilton? Wolfe’s animus for blogs and “citizen journalism” is well known and arguable, but do I really have to swallow his fatuous pronouncement that the subprime mortgage disaster was caused by the unpleasantness of on-screen reading? That predatory lenders made bad loans because they couldn’t bear to read the applications on a computer? Please. This is the wrong stuff. Nevertheless, the questioners were rapturous, one going so far as to ask Wolfe who made his suits. The man who shares his bespoke style with John Travolta and Ricardo Montalbán dutifully gave his tailor’s name and address, as well as that of his shirtmaker. I left during the applause, in search of Kool-Aid.

Last Resort


Left: Artist Anri Sala and Calvin Klein. Right: The SeaFair Art Boat. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

“THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES lie at the intersection of your world and ours; be ready to discover a canvas for your imagination.” The new Fontainebleau Hotel, recently “reinvented” according to Morris Lapidus’s original design, didn’t skimp on words in its brochure to welcome Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami visitors. I (along with Ivana Trump) was among the visitors to stay in its hallowed walls last week.

A couple of weeks prior the hotel had opened with a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a video of which was relayed on a screen in a hallway. (“Delicious,” salivated one young guest as he watched.) The place itself practically constituted its own ABMB crossover event (a fact punctuated by the presence of the SeaFair Art Boat, moored just outside the hotel); the rooms are chock-full of specially commissioned works (James Turrell paneling in the lobby, Ai Weiwei chandeliers). In my room, #1422, I even had a print of Baldessari’s I will not make any more boring art. Of course, boredom was the least of my worries.

There was no time for boredom (read: relaxation) by the time I arrived last Tuesday afternoon. Design Miami, organized by Ambra Medda, was opening in the city’s (surprise!) Design District. Twenty-three galleries, displaying wares ranging from Perriand vintage classic to contemporary (à la Zaha Hadid), had set up shop. Design wallah Philippe Jousse, who presented several magnificent historical pieces by Maria Pergay, confided to me that some of the most important design collectors would, unfortunately, not be present. Nicolas Chwat of Perimeter, which presented new editions of works by Janette Laverrière, thought that this year he would likely be selling to collectors rather than interior decorators, because the latter were in even shorter supply.

Left: Perimeter's Nicolas Chwat. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Designer Jil Sander with Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz.

Going against the grain, designer Arik Levy, who happened to be on my flight from Paris, was extremely positive. His Big Rock, exhibited at Kenny Schachter’s ROVE, were in no danger of neglect. Nor were the Campana Brothers, who had just been named designers of the year by the fair. As I was leaving the district, I bumped into T magazine editor Stefano Tonchi, style editor Alix Brown, and Olivier Lalanne, the editor of French Vogue Hommes. Together we set off to join fashion designer Consuelo Castiglioni for the opening of the latest Marni boutique, this one designed by Future Systems.

“Hello. Hello darling. So nice to meet you.” Thank you and goodbye. We finished our glasses of Champagne elsewhere.

Next stop was the opening of Anri Sala’s show at MoCA North Miami. So that’s where everyone was! The museum was overflowing with viewers desperately trying to catch the complex exhibition’s various segments––videos played in sequence, one after the other, while ghostly mechanical sticks beat drums positioned around the room. From Ingrid Sischy to David Lynch, Bruce Weber to Calvin Klein, the most elite guard of image-makers had shown up for a concert orchestrated by Sala. (I missed the performance but caught the attendees—such is life around the fair.) They then set off for the dinner sponsored by Cartier, where Chantal Crousel’s Niklas Svennung giddily pointed out Lynch’s “floating diamond” projection illuminating the ceiling.

The next day, totally jetlagged, I tried to locate the Fontainebleau’s dining room to have breakfast and instead stumbled into a meeting for the PCICS (Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society). I don’t recommend it; the coffee was awful. Dismayed but not discouraged, I decided to test the breakfast at the massive Margulies Collection at the Warehouse in Wynwood. The first segment, “Photography and Sculpture: A Correlated Exhibition,” crafted subtle interplays between Joan Miró, Richard Serra, and Michael Heizer, and vintage prints by Umbo, Herbert Bayer, and Albert Renger-Patzsch. The result was magnificent.

Left: Margulies Collection curator Katherine Hinds with Martin Z. Margulies. Right: Collector Craig Robins. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

In the meantime, Rosa de la Cruz, another great Miami collector, opened the doors to her Key Biscayne house, likely for the last time, she confided, since she’s planning to open her own museum in Miami next May. Right on the oceanfront, in a high-security neighborhood with chic houses—indeed, so chic you have to stop your taxi at the entrance and get in a golf cart—she presented an impressively wide selection of works: Wade Guyton, Kelley Walker, and many Germans (Kippenberger, Pernice, Immendorff, Oehlen, Meese, Forg, Rauch, Polke, Bock—the whole kit and kaboodle) were on display. It could have been my imagination, but it seemed there were more people speaking German than Spanish.

That evening, the Bass Museum of Art opened an excellent show of work by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes and a group exhibition, “Russian Dreams,” curated by Olga Sviblova, director of the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow. The new shoes I bought at Webster’s, Milan Vukmirovic’s “in” store (where Dasha Zhukova was also making some purchases), were really hurting my feet, so I decided it was time to head off to dinner at the Pacific Time Restaurant. There, the Rubell family and Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz hosted the launch of Puma’s “Reality Bag no. 2,” made for the Rubell Collection’s controversial new show “30 Americans,” an exhibition of contemporary art by African-Americans that was the talk of ABMB.

I sat next to John Armleder, who designed a special bag for Puma with contributions by each of the exhibition’s artists, and who insisted that “the bag is a work of art that itself contains works of art.” The evening was altogether pleasant. The Rubells talked at length, thanking the participants and former Museum of Modern Art, Luxembourg director Marie-Claude Beaud, who had introduced them to Zeitz. Naomi Campbell was there with her new Russian husband, and a rumor circulated that the elusive Grace Jones was on her way, but we never saw her.

Left: Artist John Armleder. Right: Artist Jim Drain. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)

The next morning everyone (including Jil Sander) gathered once again at Jennifer Rubell’s annual Art Basel Breakfast. The spread was an installation all its own: There were thousands of bananas piled on the floor, and hundreds of cereal boxes on an immense table next to rows of coffee pots. While the haphazard meal was inspiring, conversation circled back to the exhibition and some made note of the show’s prescient timing with regard to the presidential election. Glenn Ligon’s large neon work, bearing the word AMERICA in black text, appeared charged with meaning. Works by older artists such as David Hammons and Robert Colescott were juxtaposed with those of younger generations, such as Kalup Linzy and Nina Chanel Abney. But Hank Willis Thomas’s panoramic photo installation—comprising advertising and media images of African-Americans made since 1968, with all logos and text removed—was the biggest hit. If its conceit is fraught, it’s certainly a show to chew on.

Before leaving on Friday, I dropped by the collection of Craig Robins (one of the principal figures in Design Miami), a portion of which was on view in his offices. He mentioned that he adores the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija, especially the text piece, written on the wall above the reception desk, that read STOP WORKING. If only life were that easy. Afterward I visited Naomi Fischer and Jim Drain’s studios, and then set off to yet another design event at the Raleigh. In the hotel’s verdant parking lot Marc Newson, cofounder (along with Adam Lindemann) of Ikepod, had installed a geodesic dome to celebrate his new double-dial watch for the company called, in homage to Andrei Tarkovsky, the Solaris. In the courtyard out back, Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia welcomed guests to her reception for an installation by Stuart Semple in conjunction with Italian skiwear brand Moncler, whose latest men’s line was designed by the impeccably elegant Thom Browne. (Browne, wearing one of his trademark ankle-showing suits, was also in attendance.) By the time I left I was suffering crossover hangover.

“We invite you to be your own news, narrate your own story, and translate your imagination into memory,” a demonic voice from the Fontainebleau website kept repeating. Three hours to checkout time at the hotel. Unbelievable. As I was leaving, I finally saw Grace Jones, who was also checking out! And there wasn’t a velvet rope in sight.

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Don Rubell, Mera Rubell, artist Glenn Ligon, Studio Museum director Thelma Golden, Jennifer Rubell, and Jason Rubell. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Julian Schnabel, Vito Schnabel, and Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller. (Photo: David Heischrek)

Fall from Grace


Left: Grace Jones. (Photo: Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan) Right: Isani Griffith with Marilyn Manson. (Except where noted, all photos: Ryan McNamara)

GRACE JONES was the event that night. But nobody, it seemed, not the crowds who came from the Deitch party, not Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, not even Yvonne Force Villareal, her vintage Halston caftan notwithstanding, was being admitted to the Delano basement for the performance. “You reach an age when you just can’t deal anymore with capacity,” Villareal exhaled to a friend after being given that classic doorperson line. People had steadily been dropping away, and, when she and Rohatyn did, many more figured the cause lost. “Now if those two can’t get in somewhere . . .” Nadia Gerazouni from the Breeder gallery snickered later. Still, a dense throng, annoyed and anxious, milled about the spotlighted Audi parked in front (the door policy incidentally increasing advertising impressions for the party’s sponsor), wanting to patch their punctured egos.

There is, however, an easier way into the Delano basement, but one not for people whose self-worth depends on getting velvet ropes unclipped: the service elevator. By the time this route was relayed to artists Mika Tajima, Howie Chen, and Mai-Thu Perret, and by the time we had made it through the cluttered bowels of the building and into the party, Grace Jones had dissipated into a pixelated dream, her latex leggings and velvet bustier seen only on cell phones and later on Patrick McMullan’s website. To some, though, her presence was incredibly corporeal; artist José León Cerrillo, who had enjoyed some intimate onstage dancing with her, gushed about her unexpected “fleshiness.” We missed the show but stuck around to dance and to eat skewered chicken and bacon-wrapped scallops, uncertain whether Jones might perform again at 2 AM, as word had it. Music equipment was being set up, after all, but the Lucite piano and glittery drum kit seemed a little ironic for her.

Left: Salon 94's Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn with Art Production Fund's Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Photographer Bruce Weber, Nan Bush, and Pharrell Williams.

It turns out they belonged to A.R.E. Weapons. There had been a lot of music that night—there had been Yelle’s concert on the beach (a moment straight out of Vice City, their high-energy electro-pop projecting out from a bright stage under the glass and steel skyscrapers fronting the rolling ocean), and there had been the Gossip at the Raleigh—so when Paul Sevigny started screeching into the microphone, it seemed a fine time to acquaint ourselves with the front door.

The next morning I went to NADA, which looked great, and Pulse, which did not (“It’s shocking how far the step down from NADA is,” one visitor correctly noted), before going to the main fair to see Jerry Saltz’s talk, sensationally titled “This Is the End: The Rising Tide of Money Goes out of the Artworld and All Boats Are Sinking.” Crisis junkies and giddy art-world mythologizers are getting a strong, regular fix these days from the economic collapse, and predicting what will happen to art has become constant white noise. The house was packed.

It was a lyric, freely streaming sort of talk, the logic of which surfaces only in spots. The metaphors were flying. The Borscht Belt humor was in full force (“Use some soap, shall we?” the avuncular Saltz said after having the artists raise their hands). Art dealers, he claimed, are the most interesting people in the art world, more so than artists: “Dealers make a world, and they want their world to be your world. They’re very vampiric.” He prophesied something “even better” than dropping prices: “Marketability will no longer equal likability. Money will no longer be a measure of success, because you’re all going to be relatively fucked up. You’re going to all be relatively the same.” He later mentioned that Jackson Pollock made drips for only four years, after which he “changed his work and willfully went back to hell. You must now be able to do that . . . and where you’re going is not hell, it’s heaven.”

Left: Yelle. Right: GCCC Moscow founder Dasha Zhukova with Derek Blasberg.

In this hell that might be heaven, with dealers acting as vampires or angels, Marilyn Manson is enjoying his first US solo exhibition. He’s a painter. The intended audience of that night’s opening, which inaugurated a gallery called 101 Exhibit, was unclear. Curator Jérôme Sans was there, as was artist Angelo Plessas, but apart from them the crowd was difficult to place. A crew of Mansonites, thin white girls with black hair and dresses, hung around their leader and in front of watercolors that portrayed them in a style resembling Marlene Dumas meets Aya Takano meets, well, Marilyn Manson. In a side gallery, champagne was served alongside Mansinthe, the Marilyn Manson absinthe. The guest of honor posed for some photographs, talked with some visitors, including Sans, and then disappeared.

“He’s in the back-back-back-back,” one person in charge whispered to another. This was the first I had heard of the back-back-back-back, but it sounded hard to get to, so I stuck around the front. Manson’s primary dealer, Brigitte Schenk, in from Cologne, strutted around in a red lace sheath. She pointed David Galloway—an “art historian,” I was told, “who has written on Marilyn’s work, for Art News”—toward the back, and he ecstatically skipped off to join his subject. Every so often, Manson came to the corner, to be immediately enclosed by people photographing with cell phones and professional cameras, his pale pancake skin reflecting the flashes. Ivana Trump showed up in a black sequined dress, and they posed together for a bit.

Left: Lorenzo Martone with Marc Jacobs. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Critic Jerry Saltz.

From there it was Visionaire at the Raleigh, where guests were greeted by shirtless men (many cast the previous night at Twist, the Miami Beach gay bar) on a black shiny stage holding copies of the magazine’s new pop-up issue, some so as to pop up just below their waists. Akari Endo-Gaut, a stylist flown in from New York to manage what little dressing they needed, had given their bottom halves black Converse shoes and black American Apparel pants, the latter of which required the real grunt work. “They would keep going for, like, size 32, and I would have to say, no, 30, 30!”

Not many people made it to the Manson afterparty at Louis, a dark bar in the Gansevoort South, but some did. Jérôme Sans did. Alanna Heiss did too. (In fact, Heiss called Marilyn’s paintings the best work in Miami and had apparently spent the night before driving around in his limo with Klaus Biesenbach and some others, the Mansinthe freely flowing.) Manson conspicuously hid in the corner with his girlfriend. Heiss curled up with Brigitte Schenk. The midget in the Napoleon costume hammed it up. Miami appeared to have bloomed into Weimar Germany, or a staff party for Hot Topic.

I ended up having some Mansinthe by the decorative stainless-steel wall with punched-out Marquis de Sade quotes including OH, SATAN! ONE AND UNIQUE GOD OF MY SOUL, INSPIRE THOU IN ME SOMETHING YET MORE, after which I have flashes of returning to the Raleigh and a very late dinner at Jerry’s, but the images strangely appear as blurs or in double.

Kyle Bentley

Left: Visionaire's Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos with Marilyn Manson and Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani. Right: A performer at Marilyn Manson's party.