They Shoot Horses

Long Island, NY

Left: Artist Robert Wilson with Christophe de Menil. Right: Artist Jonathan Meese with photographer Jan Bauer. (Photos: David Velasco)

To get to the Watermill Center from the Montauk Highway, you head north at the house with the white picket fence—away, that is, from the sand dunes and shoreline—and westward at the miniature windmill where Head of Pond Road forks. To people disciplined by the grids of Manhattan neighborhoods, directions like this can sound foreign to the point of seeming fantastical; they might as well be for Gliese 581 d (which is why so many of these same people do venture to places like Long Island, to seek out that alien form called “quaintness”). But those of us from New England are accustomed to the rural signpost and consider it, as you should, only distractedly. More often we intuit idiosyncratic routes, stop at produce stands; we get there whenever we do.

So it went last Saturday. I did make it, of course, to the Watermill’s summer benefit (its fifteenth) but first got ice cream and went to the beach. Then on back roads I circumvented a segment of the Montauk Highway, which around Southampton becomes two narrow lanes and, in the high season, two long trails of cars inching in opposite directions. But congestion would still get me. The Watermill, I found, would have its own summer procession, this one less Week End than 8 1/2. Robert Wilson, the center’s founder, would stand with a cane halfway down the path to the building’s main entrance and would welcome each guest, an affable gesture that would not preclude pomp and circumstance. There would be, in a line, the women in feathered hats or summer dresses posing with the men in suits of material correctly light in color and weight. There would be the “news” anchor with blown-out hair who had gone slack in contrapposto, her large microphone down. (“Nobody,” she would spit to her cameraman when certain people passed.) There would be, between the tiki torches, the white-shirted young men holding out trays of mojitos, which apparently would be not very good, given that a slew of them, still full, would litter the base of a nearby sculpture by Jonathan Meese, whose cryptically titled performance Marlene Dietrich in Dr. No’s Ludovico-Clinic (Dr. Baby’s Erzland) would be underway inside.

Left: Howard Stern with Beth Ostrosky. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan) Right: Musician Rufus Wainwright with Watermill creative director Jörn Weisbrodt. (Photo: David Velasco)

I never did learn what that title meant. Inside the sacred exhibition space, my shoes removed, as per regulation, I saw standing on a stage in a Meesian environment of junk and hand-scrawled phrases—DICTATORSHIP OF ART and ART IS NOT RELIGION and ART IS TOTAL PROPAGANDA, etc.—the Artist himself. Guns stuck, barrel-first, into his pants, Meese lifted dumbbells while his “official photographer,” in a shirt emblazoned in red with PROPAGANDIST, played his role. “It makes me think of Jack Smith,” Bill Cunningham said favorably, “thirty years ago!” and then the style photographer darted away to sneak some covert shots.

The bright young things were in back. There was Austin Scarlett—known, one guest informed me, for making a corn-husk dress on Project Runway—who blotted his face evenly, calmly, with a paper napkin, a silk polka-dotted scarf tied around his neck, while Russian artist Andrey Bartenev posed in a Leigh Bowery–like getup: red platform pumps and full-body black-and-white spandex that sealed in three tumorlike balloons. The New York Times once called Robert Wilson the “P. T. Barnum of the avant-garde,” a characterization that now sounded even fairer.

Left: Alan Wyse and Kim Cattrall. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan) Right: Musicians Sia and JD Samson. (Photo: David Velasco)

Seen in light of the events that followed, Meese’s installation seemed meant to be taken literally. Established hierarchies appeared intact. Under the tent, Wilson addressed the diners, as did a twelve-year-old boy who had been aiding the artist since 2003, when they met on a shoot for French Vogue. The latter’s speech was eloquent, suggestive of one written by parents: “I am deeply honored to be here tonight. . . . I have plenty of fond memories of the Watermill Center. . . . I remember Bob’s voice, his passion, and his power. . . .” (This syntax and the boy’s skin color must have been what prompted Jörn Weisbrodt, Watermill’s creative director and the evening’s emcee, to announce afterward to a mixed reaction: “Wow! Watch out, Obama!”) If art is a dictatorship, then it was unclear just who was in charge that night: Wilson or Meese or the equally theatrical Simon de Pury, who conducted a spirited auction during dinner, his voice made gravelly in order to really get in there, really drive up those prices. He did, however, soften at one crucial point. “For the next lot, I would like to ask for your total, total silence, do not applaud at any moment, do not make any noise,” he said. “Shhhh.”

The filets de boeuf went momentarily untouched; the tittering died down. Then, from the back of the tent, a shirtless, golden-haired man rode in on a white horse. De Pury was ecstatic: “Now we are going to sell—a horse!” A horse indeed, but not that horse, a horse named Golden Classics—one “much, much better looking” and “totally priceless”—who was currently in Texas. On the block was not only Golden Classics but also two breedings for her with national champions, chosen by the winner, and a seven-day vacation at the Blue Moon Ranch in Texas. My view was blocked, but JD Samson, the DJ that night, leaned over to me and mentioned that the woman giving these latter details happened to be wearing wings. Black feathered wings. But soon enough she and the others had flitted away, the horse having sold for thirty thousand dollars, and JD started up her set: “Awww . . . freak out!” People did, first on the dance floor and then in the hot tub and the pool at the party at the house down the road. And later, in the mood of excess, I stopped my rented car at the drive-through and my filet de boeuf met a Big Mac.

Kyle Bentley

Left: Photographer Bill Cunningham. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan) Right: Jayson Pugh, Robert Wilson, and auctioneer Simon de Pury. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan)

Casual Affairs

New York

Left: Musician Malcolm Mooney with artist Fia Backström. Right: Dealer John Connelly. (Photos: Brian Droitcour)

In July, galleries think they can break the silent contract to be open Saturdays and throw together group shows like nobody’s looking, because anybody who’s anybody is somewhere other than Manhattan. The upside is that the nobodies are still willing to make the effort to put on a good show, which is what happened Saturday at the NADA County Affair on Twenty-seventh Street and Fia Backström’s midnight Poetry Club at White Columns.

With an association of galleries hosting the first event, I expected to find art for sale, but the “fair,” held in the street, was devoted to more rustic forms of commerce: tag sales, bake sales, a raffle, and giveaways. The highest-priced items were the Museum of Miniature Art’s little portraits of Barack Obama, which sold for sixty dollars. Artist Scott Hug used the opportunity to unload old issues of K48 and other vintage curiosities, including Batman action figures based on the early-1990s animated series that would fetch more on eBay than in Chelsea. Dealer John Connelly, like Hug, cleaned out his storage and put together a one-man thirdhand clothing store, selling T-shirts, sneakers, and intimate apparel.

Left: Artist Tyler Coburn, artist Martha Friedman, and Wallspace's Jane Hait. Right: Artist Joshua Smith and curator Jennifer Teets. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

But most of the fair’s offerings were either edible—like sculptor Martha Friedman’s zucchini cupcakes—or otherwise ephemeral. Artist Joshua Smith and curator Jennifer Teets, inspired by Lucy from Peanuts, offered advice for twenty-five cents. At Klaus von Nichtssagend’s booth, Liz Luisada conducted experiments in automatic drawing, inventing stories on the spot for blindfolded subjects to illustrate or giving instructions for a celebrity’s portrait without revealing that celebrity’s identity until the sketch was finished. Tyler Coburn nailed Grace Jones.

I caught a performance by the two women of Vos, who danced in American-flag-themed costumes as Old Glory herself burned in the street. (“Isn’t that illegal?” someone whispered.) The fair concluded with an announcement of the raffle’s winners, who walked away with prizes including a Banana Republic weekend bag and designer sunglasses from Mary Ping. At 6 PM, participants packed up their Magic Markers, finger paints, cookies, and ice cream and dispersed.

Left: Artist Karl Holmqvist. (Photo: Brian Droitcour) Right: Colorwheel's Kat Mareck, Bec Stupak, and Malcolm Stuart. (Photo: Dawn Chan)

Art was fun for everyone at the County Affair, but the late-night entertainment at White Columns promised to be a bit more highbrow. Backström’s Poetry Club was the coda to an exhibition she organized that I wouldn’t have recommended to anyone who doesn’t like to read standing up. A group show about the discourse surrounding group shows, it displayed clusters of press releases, a framed review, and transcripts of Backström’s theoretical dialogues about the show itself, to name just a few of the printed materials competing for attention. The Poetry Club provided a pleasant contrast: You could lean against the wall as the texts were served to you one by one.

The program opened with Malcolm Mooney, the original vocalist-lyricist for the early Krautrock band Can. Mooney read impassioned political verses to a jazzy, synthesized accompaniment. After writer Ariana Reines read Chris Kraus’s seminostalgic account of life as a stripper in New York in the early ’80s, there was a break, so those who arrived after the 12:30 AM kickoff could partake of the open bar. The atmosphere deteriorated during the next three numbers, the crowd made restless by microphone malfunctions and the free alcohol. But Swedish artist Karl Holmqvist rescued the night with his half-sung, elliptical meditations on lovers and mothers, constructed around pop lyrics and strung together across puns, homophones, and breathy, monosyllabic chants.

For the twenty or so stalwarts still in the gallery as 3 AM approached, White Columns director Matthew Higgs read from Sean Landers’s 1993 confessional [sic]. The passage oscillated wildly between self-doubt and self-love, with the latter most evident in the artist’s infatuation with a woman who expressed interest in his art and bore a physical resemblance to him. (“Her nipples were of my flesh.”) Higgs said that Landers could not be present to read because he was in Montauk. The possibility that Landers, who fifteen years ago wrote with the angsty uncertainty of a nobody, was now weekending among the somebodies, might have given hope to the young artists in the audience—at least to the ones who are in it for the Hamptons.

Brian Droitcour

303 Rock

New York

Left: 303 Gallery's Lisa Spellman and Mariko Munro. Right: The Virgins. (All photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

The scene outside 303 Gallery last Wednesday evening was surprisingly placid. With the seasonal doldrums setting in, I’d expected every New York art-world denizen lacking a Hamptons share to show up—for the free air-conditioning if nothing else—yet only the sparsest clutch of stoop sitters marked the Twenty-second Street location. The explanation was simple enough; I’d picked the wrong spot. 303’s Summer Celebration was planned for their new second space, just around the corner on Twenty-first. Arriving at the former posh real estate showroom (previously the classy-sounding club El Flamingo), I was reassured; the crowd was thin but swelling, and the hot-dog marquee outside was taking delivery of buns and wieners in anticipation of a hungry mob.

The venue’s capacious unfinished interior was home to a large stage, behind which a small digger perched atop a heap of fresh rubble. Two bars pushed vodka and Red Bull while opening DJ Matt Creed spun Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” “I haven’t heard this since I was in college,” enthused a Christie’s veteran. Whether headlining band the Virgins or guest DJ Thurston Moore would provide a comparable thrill remained to be seen. As Bill Pullman’s face (notoriously the subject of an entire essay in Greil Marcus’s 2006 book The Shape of Things to Come) loomed portentously over the room from a projection of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point played opposite; both were Mary Heilmann’s selections), a glance around revealed the likes of artists Dash Snow and Marilyn Minter, as well as curators Francesco Bonami, Richard Flood, and Shamim Momin, mingling with willowy fashionistas.

Left: Artist Karen Kilimnik with Kirsten Dunst. Right: Musician Thurston Moore.

The proximity of hipster waifs invariably has me craving dessert, so it was fortunate that Karen Kilimnik was on hand to dispense caloric “fairy food” in the form of chocolate-chip-cookie bites (also available were teeny-tiny chocolate-ice-cream cones that melted immediately in the heat). Few others joined me, however, distracted perhaps by the arrival of Kirsten Dunst, pretty-boy escort and anonymous gal pal in tow. With that mystical ability of the properly famous, the doe-eyed starlet made her appearance, posed “reluctantly” for photographers, then melted away undetectably. Those with a more demonstrable connection to the gallery—including painter Richard Phillips, Artists Space director Benjamin Weil, and MoMA curator Barbara London—stuck around a little longer.

Ducking outside for a break before a typically uncompromising but indifferently received noise-rock set by Moore (fifty years youthful that day, as announced by balloons and cake), my companions and I found ourselves in mildly deranged conversation with terrifyingly bejeweled “dating coach” Lauren Frances. The glamour puss regaled us with tales of a recent trip to Aspen (“The women there are awful”) before offering to call her ex-partner, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, seemingly just to prove a connection between them. At this point, clocking a lewd act in progress between two nearby parked cars, I decided recess was over. With the gallery’s Mariko Munro as my guide, I headed backstage to stash my bag before things got hectic. The Virgins were there, too, preparing unhurriedly to take the stage, and very nice, polite young men they seemed (their music, though, was forgettable, muddy acoustics notwithstanding).

Outside again, and there was barely time to bump fists with Art TLV curator Andrew Renton before the heavens opened and the hot-dog tent suddenly became unfeasibly popular—periodic partial collapses eliciting choruses of squealing. Braving the storm, we headed to the West Village’s cliquey Beatrice Inn where—naturally—our initial attempt to gain admittance was unceremoniously rebuffed (with the innovative twist that the doorman pretending the nonexistence of the afterparty had also just come from the earlier event). Nevertheless, after a phone call we were in but unexpectedly on our own; the place was empty. Turns out, we were a little early, but for a moment we scared ourselves with the possibility that Beatrice had opened a second space, too.

Michael Wilson

Italian Hours

Bolzano-Bozen, Italy

Left: My Barbarian performing Post Paradise Never Say Sorry Again at Piazza Cesare Battisti, Trento. (Photo: Hugo Munoz) Right: Manifesta director Hedwig Fijen and artist Nedko Solakov. (Except where noted, all photos: Cathryn Drake)

The title of this year’s Manifesta, “100 Miles in 100 Days,” seemed more logistical caveat than curatorial mandate. The impressive exhibition, which, along with parallel events, includes more than four hundred artists, is a veritable endurance marathon. This is the first time the roving biennial has been based in more than one city: the Italian towns of Rovereto, Trento, and Bolzano-Bozen. Perhaps the director, Hedwig Fijen, wanted to make up for the cancellation of the 2006 edition, scheduled for Nicosia, Cyprus, which was abandoned because of political discord among the curators and local organizers. But although the Alpine region of Trentino-Alto Adige looks picturesque and idyllic—lederhosen and hiking boots seemed practically de rigueur—it has also seen its share of political turbulence, with relations between the ethnic Germans and Italians still tense. The schizophrenic province, also referred to as Südtirol (South Tyrol), was part of Austria-Hungary until its annexation by Italy in 1919, and roughly half the population still speaks German in spite of an intensive relocation and “Italianization” program carried out by Mussolini with the help of Hitler, which was cut short by World War II.

Arriving in Trento last Wednesday night on the train from Rome, I headed straight for the local art-world hangout, the Green Tower restaurant, where I dined with Los Angeles collective My Barbarian, in town for their performance at the Galleria Civica di Trento. They described trying to organize a workshop with local volunteers around the theme of the left-wing extremist Red Brigades, which had been founded by local university student Renato Curcio; they were told it was not allowed. Barbarian Alexandro Segade said that when they tried to discuss regional politics in a workshop, they were shocked at the passionately divisive reactions. The unveiling earlier that evening of the bronze Family Monument—portraying the typical Trentino family as chosen in a contest during Gillian Wearing’s eponymous 2007 exhibition—was attended by protesters in white masks claiming to represent the “invisible families” that had been statistically disregarded by the competition. Barbarian Jade Gordon commented that the posture of the family, with the wife kneeling next to the husband, was tellingly sexist.

Left: Manifesta curator Adam Budak (on right). Right: The unveiling of Gillian Wearing's Family Monument. (Photo: Hugo Munoz)

Coming from notoriously chaotic southern Italy, I expected impeccable organization up north. But the reality was perhaps the biennial’s most striking (or at least frustrating) lesson. When I finally arrived in Rovereto the next morning—after narrowly missing the train and being rescued by Manifesta employee Roberto Lunelli—the press representative explained, “There are twice as many people here as we anticipated.” In the courtyard of the sprawling Manifattura Tabacchi—a recently decommissioned tobacco factory and one of three sites of curator Adam Budak’s exhibition “Principle Hope”—I fortified myself with a gelato from artist Tim Etchells’s Art Flavours cart. A TV crew interviewed Budak beneath giant black balloons, part of an outdoor lounge installation. At the back was a spectacular facade of vivid flames, the entrance to Ragnar Kjartansson’s Schumann Machine, in which the Icelandic artist donned a tux and sang an ironic rendition of the composer’s Dichterliebe.

On the ground floor, at Copy-Right No Copy-Right, by Italian collective Alterazioni Video, a long queue led to a computer station where participants could make copies of music and films of their choice as an act of protest against intellectual-property laws. In the mazelike exhibition upstairs, I came across The Caregivers, by Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson, a compelling video opera about eastern-European female domestic workers in Italy, which effectively depicted the pressing issue of immigration in Europe.

Daunted by the logistics of moving around Rovereto alone, I considered jumping aboard Christian Philipp Müller’s surreal Carrgo Largo float, which passed by seemingly unmanned near the train station as I headed toward the former cocoa factory ex-Peterlini. Here the centerpiece was Knut Asdam’s Oblique, a masterful video in which passengers travel together on a train through a meditative urban landscape. Exhausted by a visit to the must-see exhibitions at nearby MART—the surveys “Eurasia” and “Contemporary Germany,” with paintings by Germans Tim Eitel, David Schnell, and Matthias Weischer—I hitched a ride back to Trento with two people getting into their car. (They turned out to be Greek curator Daphne Vitali and her father, Carlo.)

Left: Nero magazine's Luca Lo Pinto with artist Rä di Martino. Right: Manifesta's Roberto Lunelli.

After a much-needed prosecco pit stop in the packed courtyard of the Palazzo delle Poste, I braved “The Soul (or, Much Trouble in the Transportation of Souls),” yet another labyrinthine exhibition. The standout here was Following Room, by American artist Beth Campbell: an arrangement of identically furnished cubicles with glass dividers. Less effective comments on collective identity were five mock didactic “museums,” such as the “Museum of European Normality.” Pausing on the staircase, 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito, on sabbatical in Europe for the summer, stopped and sighed, “I think there should be a law limiting the percentage of video allowed in a show.”

The best demonstration of the problems surrounding European integration was simply getting around. On a Manifesta shuttle to Bolzano on Friday, a row ensued when the Italian driver stubbornly insisted on following a written itinerary that was contrary to the official press schedule. The scene devolved into a comedy of the absurd when, to everyone’s bemusement, he stopped the bus in the middle of a roundabout to ask road workers for directions. We all agreed that this was evidence of the worst characteristics of the two local cultures: Teutonic rigidity and Italian disorganization.

The cavernous ex-Alumix, on the outskirts of Bolzano, showcased “The Rest of Now,” an evocative, lively exhibition curated by Raqs Media Collective dedicated to the beauty and artifacts of obsolescence. Zilvinas Kempinas’s Skylight Tower embodying projected light in negative with shimmering videotape strips hanging from the central skylight, while Jorge Otero-Pailos’s The Ethics of Dust transferred the accumulations of pollution on the wall to a facade of latex casts, preserving the residue of time as archaeological artifact.

By the time we reached the ghostly Fortezza/Franzensfeste, the Habsburg defense structure on the Austrian-Italian border where Hitler and Mussolini sealed their pact, I was wandering like a zombie from room to room, in no state to appreciate the ephemeral sound texts emanating in three different languages from the empty spaces. At that moment, the ominous, isolated fort itself seemed the most eloquent physical symbol of the randomness of political borders and national identity.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Right: 303 Gallery director Mari Spirito, curator Konstantinos Dagritzikos, and artist Beth Campbell.

Wiley Style

New York

Left: Artist Kehinde Wiley with UBS wealth manager Chris Apgar. Right: Studio Museum curator Christine Kim, Lulu, and Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)

“Kehinde. Wiley. The World. Stage. Africa. Lagos. Dakar,” proclaimed an echoey DJ via all-weather speakers bolted above the entrance to the Studio Museum in Harlem on Wednesday night. Noising up the crowd, another palpitating Afrobeat rhythm unfurled, and despite the onus of July heat waves in Manhattan, nobody wanted to wait to have a good time.

This section of Wiley’s ongoing “World Stage” project is also his first solo exhibition at the museum, as well as a homecoming of sorts to the place where, as an artist-in-residence in 2001, the painter honed his current style: gigantic oil-on-canvas portraits of young black men in poses derived from classical forms, with richly patterned backgrounds in bright hues and flamboyant curlicues harking back to everything from the Arts and Crafts movement to indigenous textiles of all stripes. Fans sated themselves in the gallery space with noses an inch from the paintings’ immaculate surfaces, or with prolonged hand-on-chin stares at six feet, or from a perch on the museum’s unusual balcony. The mood in the gallery rested somewhere between quietly reverential and familial; security guards couldn’t have been more relaxed as guests glided about in a mellow slipstream, and dealer Jeffrey Deitch and Deitch director Nicola Vassell negotiated sales and whispered in each other’s ears at the nucleus of the gallery space. The thrills began in an adjacent air-conditioned vinyl marquee that stretched the length of the museum, erected for the evening with two open bars, and liberally sprinkled with placards advertising an African rum distillery, the evening’s designated intoxicator. Museum director Thelma Golden snacked on popcorn while some downtown fashion dorks meandered about looking lost, out of the spotlight for the night. A live DJ went from playing full Fela Kuti sides to incendiary hip-hop classics, and a considerable dance floor took shape. A New York Times photographer seemed to suffer paroxysms of puppy love for several guests, not least Vasell, who led him on a merry dance all night long. It was hard to fault the nakedness of his feelings in such a crowd.

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman, and Andy Cohen. Right: Artists Varda Caivano and Chris Ofili.

This is the nature of the Wiley experience: Since 2001, the thirty-one-year-old painter has built a lucrative practice through consistency, both in work executed and in celebration done properly. I have harbored warm feelings for him for years, since a Sunday-night fish fry—Wiley and actor David Alan Grier’s Atlantic catches—that remains the only sincere fun I’ve experienced at Art Basel Miami Beach, though I have been ambivalent toward the formulism, market friendliness, and respectability of the artist’s neo-Duveen classicism for almost as long. Veteran Chicago dealer Rhona Hoffman wouldn’t abide my discreet misgivings as I commented on the artist’s travel schedule and vivacious social presence en route to Deitch’s lavish dinner for a few hundred at the Alhambra Ballroom, around the corner from the museum. “Kehinde is in the studio,” she told me, “working his butt off, all the time. He will not stop.” I commended her for her support, even though it was Jeffrey’s night to bank checks. “I’m getting India,” she said, referring to one of the countries soon to feature on Wiley’s “World Stage.” (Another is Brazil.)

Come speech time, between salad and salmon, Deitch deferred to Brian Keith Jackson, a writer whose excellent profile of Wiley featured in the otherwise frighteningly generic Giant magazine plopped on every place setting. The crowd quieted as Jackson spoke of coming full circle, of a leg of the artist’s journey completed that evening, and of the artist’s capacity to build bridges. It was noted that Wiley went to Nigeria eleven years ago to find the father who had left before his birth. Satisfied and rather moved, I turned to my neighbor, Studio Museum assistant curator Naomi Beckwith. “Not just bridging the gap but making the world whole,” she said, nodding. On my other flank, artist Rashawn Griffin, another former SMH artist-in-residence, and participant in this year’s Whitney Biennial, pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows in demure, tacit approval.

Left: Artist Rashawn Griffin. Right: Artists Tanea Richardson, Marcus Zilliox, and Peter Halley.

There followed a reflective lull, an ideal cue for the surprise entrance of the Houses of Ninja and Xtravaganza, whose pneumatic voguing routine was met by spontaneous and more-than-merited squeals, whistles, and calls for an encore (granted). Hoffman scurried around taking photographs, and an until-then-flinty Glenn O’Brien stood up from his seat and grinned from ear to ear. (“I haven’t seen them in twenty years,” he told me before climbing into a waiting car at night’s end.) The Houses’ MC threw “How YOU doing?” at the crowd as the dancers strutted from the ballroom. Criticism had felt pointless for a while. At that moment, we were all thriving.

William Pym

Left: Artists Glenn Ligon, Karen Azoulay, and Muna El Fituri with curator Joseph Wollen. Right: Artist Kalup Linzy.

Shanghai Express


Left: Artist Xu Zhen with Long March's Lu Jie. Right: Collector Jeanne Lawrence, dealer James Cohan, and collector Pamela Kramlich. (Photos: Philip Tinari)

In recent years, the foreign-gallery opening in China has developed into a complex ritual with its own unique social lexicon. Who can forget Galleria Continua’s 798 debut back in 2005, leaving Beijing awash in prosciutto, pecorino, and Chen Zhen installations? Or Galerie Faurschou’s dinner last November for the absent but still-living Rauschenberg, whose work opened their Beijing space, under a rented tent and catered by the Chinese capital’s lone Michelin-certified chef? Pace Beijing originally scheduled its China debutante ball for the Day of the Aligning Eights (8-8-08), to coincide with that other, slightly bigger coming-out party: the Olympic opening ceremony.

Such was the deep background for James Cohan Gallery’s tasteful garden wedding to Shanghai. At the end of a lane buried in a prime patch of the tree-lined French Concession, in a house, once occupied by the Chinese military, painted with the requisite fading Maoist slogan above the door, two hundred or so gathered last Thursday evening to celebrate the opening of Cohan’s Shanghai satellite with a group show of gallery artists on the theme of “Mining Nature.” Shanghai and New York being closer than they once were, the crowd was full of more than a few Chelsea habitués: Cohan director Arthur Solway (now fully relocated to Shanghai), video collector extraordinaire Pam Kramlich (a Shanghai half-timer), Performa curator Defne Ayas (in Shanghai more or less full-time, teaching for NYU), Wallpaper writer Andrew Yang (the man on the ground for Shanghai’s new “100% Design” fair), and even New York Social Diary contributor Jeanne Lawrence (in Shanghai “indefinitely”). This is, of course, to say nothing of the jet-setting Chinese—dealer Lu Jie, artist Zhou Tiehai, novelist Mian Mian, to name just a few—who closed the cross-continental gap long ago. And in a moment one could liken to the tossing of the bouquet, Jay Jopling appeared with a retinue of White Cube directors and local consultant (and former Ullens Center deputy director) Colin Chinnery in tow, prompting speculation that he might be next.

Left: White Cube creative director Susan May and director Tim Marlow with curator Colin Chinnery. (Photo: Philip Tinari) Right: James Cohan director Arthur Solway (right) with a friend. (Photo: Defne Ayas)

The garden party ended after repeated nudges in the form of flickering lights. Then it was on to restaurant M on the Bund, the continental standby with a manager who looks and talks like Truman Capote. Cohan’s college buddy—a longtime Shanghai expat with gruff, fluent Mandarin—gave the toast, a vague homage to dreams dreamed and dreams realized. Conspicuously absent from the family-of-the-bride table was Shanghai artist Xu Zhen, who had a solo show with Cohan in New York in February. (He didn’t attend that opening either, owing to a legendary fear of flying.) The four tables worked their way through three courses, syncopated by the rhythm of smokers running off to the bar between services.

After dessert, Solway sat down at my table and waxed poetic about his decision to Go East. He had lived in New York since 1979, drawn there after his father, a Cleveland art dealer, took him for a weekend in the city instead of giving him a bar mitzvah. They saw a lot of exhibitions, visited “Teeny” Duchamp on Tenth Street, and even caught a live performance of Hair. “It was not unlike the feeling I had first coming to Shanghai,” back in the early years of this decade. Who guessed that the Age of Aquarius might resonate here, today?

Left: Writer Andrew Yang with Performa's Defne Ayas. Right: Dealer Angela Li and architect Patrice Butler. (Photos: Philip Tinari)

Philip Tinari