Rich Relations

Rhonda Lieberman around New York

New York

Left: Joey Gabriel, Nan Goldin, Lola, and Gail Thacker. Right: Xavier Guerrand-Hermès with gallerists Jessica Fredericks and Andrew Freiser. (All photos: David Velasco)

Last Friday, the first official day of the Armory Show, I earned the purple heart of art-schlepping, trekking all over town to gawk at cutting-edge tchotchkes and their human support system: the dealers, the artists, the merely curious, and most importantly, the collectors—supershoppers who are the target audience and, implicitly, the stars of this fancy trade show.

I began in the morning at an “open house,” a ritual for VIPs, wherein collectors show fellow big spenders their stuff. As press, my status there was uncertain—existentially and practically, as they didn’t quite confirm my RSVP. But it could have been an oversight, right? I showed up anyway at the deluxe apartment in the sky (as seen in W mag) where Sotheby’s auction maestro Tobias Meyer resides with Mark Fletcher on the sixty-sixth floor of the sleek Time-Warner building surrounded by stunning views and a pitch-perfect mélange of current art. The exposed plywood on some walls—à la a cool art installation—combined with sumptuous antique furniture to create a super-manicured Paul McCarthy-meets-Louis Quinze-via-Gagosian vibe.

An assume vivid astro focus wall piece artfully splattered the entire living room like a cartoony membrane enclosing a Warhol “gun,” a John Currin head, the shocking wraparound view of Central Park, and a salmon-colored velvet couch where I kibbitzed with a nice collector couple from Chicago and Miami. They too, have an assume vivid astro focus thingie (“but not as big,” they told our host graciously) and nine hundred pieces of poodle art, I was excited to learn. They were like my parents, but with money. Amidst the “vivid” sprawl, I noticed the giant Warhol Gun aimed right at Madam Collector’s head, as we chatted about the close-knit Chicago art world and the challenges of art-shlepping—internationally, or even just getting out to P.S. 1 in Queens. Our panoramic view of Central Park was jauntily haunted by the lightbulb-covered dollar sign by Tim Noble and Sue Webster reflected in the window.

Left: Artist David Weiss. Right: Artist Peter Fischli.

I had a Proustian moment, not able to place, at first, the familiar-looking dandy charming a clutch of collectors across the room. It was Jonathan Hammer, now based in Barcelona and minus his flowing, Kenny G.–like locks. “I butched up,” the yenta declared. I looked at his ascot. Well, everything’s relative. “Don’t forget to see the Jonathan Hammers in the Matthew Marks booth!” he jested, reminding the collectors as they headed out.

I settled into the groovy Artforum lounge area at the Armory to watch the relatively well-heeled crowd roam the white-cubicled trade-fair setting. “Who are these people anyway?” I heard someone wonder. “Doesn’t look like a lot of people are buying art. Must be dealers. Or artists not in the show checking out the competition—or wondering why they’re not in better booths?” It’s the county fair of the international art world. Instead of a prize heifer, Ronald Feldman, for example, displayed Hannah Wilke’s prescient exhibitionism and pussy-ceramics from the ’70s. It was surreal and kind of ridiculous to look at influential art in this mallish mise-en-scene. A gaggle of middle-age collector ladies appreciated the notorious image of the fetching artist bedecked only with the caption, “Beware of Fascist Feminists.” “My daughter gave me a T-shirt that said, “This is what a feminist looks like,” one of them bragged. Right on, sister.

From the Armory I checked out the Nan Goldin and Fischli & Weiss shows opening at Matthew Marks, since I was going to the dinner later. In the context of schlepping and schmoozing, the Nan Goldin slide show/film about her troubled older sister was an incongruously moving actual art experience, expressing family dysfunction, irremediable loss, mortality, and senselessness, and a reminder that art can be powerful, healing, and cathartic—as well as a status symbol and home decor.

Left: Kim Heirston with Massimo and Angela Lauro. Right: John Waters.

Sublime in a different way, Fischli & Weiss, dressed as a rat and a panda in their droll video, communed with mythical woodland creatures and frolicked in the Swiss Alps. Along with Nayland Blake in the bunny suit (who I ran into at dinner, though not in the bunny suit), I wondered if Marks might at some point have a group show of all his gallery artists dressed as animals. And if so, which animal would Nan Goldin be?

Alas, there were no gift bags at the Hermès party for John Wesley (whose perky work graces its Madison Avenue windows). And it was not very festive to sip champagne and munch the dainty bonsai snacks surrounded by security guards (seemingly one per guest) protecting the stairway and the wall of purses from the sparse, well-turned out, mostly lady guests (all nonetheless potential perps and purse-snatchers—or at least that’s what it felt like!). Quel mixed message: Waiters greet you at the door with a tray of champagne while a phalanx of security guards repels you from the merch. I had a lovely chat with collector, Francophile, and free-spirit Laura Skoler, who I want to adopt as my Auntie Mame. “My daughter gave me a magnet for the fridge,” she told me, “that says: ‘I don’t have tennis elbow, I have Visa wrist!’”

Downtown, the “Ridyke-ulous” opening at Participant Inc. was livelier—and aptly named. Co-curated by A. L. Steiner and Nicole Eisenman, it was hopping with performances, lesbians, and friends of lesbians. Gracing the entrance, a petit, pasty fellow gyrated in his skivvies with a fuzzy black fake Hitler mustache. Why did this person look so familiar? He handed me one of the flyers tucked into his waistband, then I realized: Aha! It was curator Dean Daderko. Ridyke-ulous. Downstairs, another guy—with particularly hairy legs—ran around in a bathrobe and wig. Also Ridyke-ulous: a gal cavorting in her panties with a cellphone “earring.” As Eisenman herself de-pantsed, I kvetched with Gary Indiana and Kathe Burkhart, whose recent Liz tableau, No Fucking Way, towered over the salon-style plethora of “ridyke-ulous” art, abounding in penis-substitutes and soiled panties.

Left: Curator Jacob Robichaux, Mike Stillman, and Steve Williams. Right: Gallerist Anne de Villepoix.

By the time I arrived at the dinner for Goldin and F & W, at Barbuto, I was fried. In my overtaxed condition I mistook Terry Winters for Fischli—or was it Weiss? It was good to see the avuncular crackpot John Waters, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself seated across from Jean Stein (whose oral history of Edie Sedgwick I love). You can never be too rich or too thin, but you can definitely get enough culture (and champagne) for one day. And I had.