Ball Drop

Rhonda Lieberman at Helmut Lang's New York solo debut

New York

Left: Straight to Hell's Billy Miller, photographer Jan Wandrag, and Helmut Lang's Joakim Andreasson. (Photo: Kathe Burkhart) Right: Visionaire's Cecilia Dean. (Photo: David Velasco)

Like any infatuation, the affair between Art and Fashion has produced many droll moments. One personal favorite has to be Helmut Lang’s paint-splattered jeans, ca. 1998, an homage to the artist’s process—and cruddy studio duds—as interpreted in premium denim. Eager to check back in with that vision, on a dark, cold Friday night the week before last I layered up to schlep to the Journal Gallery in Williamsburg to see the first solo exhibition by Lang, according to the press release “one of the most innovative and influential cultural figures of our time.”

I recalled Lang’s defunct boutique in Soho. As the neighborhood morphed from the center of the New York art world into a galleria, “Helmut Lang” was a transitional space mingling art and luxury where you could shop for pants among installations by Jenny Holzer and Louise Bourgeois. Now with Lang rebranding his practice from Fashion to Art, this “exhibition is the artistic culmination of a yearlong collaboration between Helmut Lang and the indie arts and culture magazine the journal,” consisting of the installation, an interview, and “ten unique studies” in the winter 2007 issue, wherein “sparkling, colored ornaments are photographed against found black-and-white pornographic visuals, the effect at once sublime and profane.” Lang is planning a big show next year in Hanover at the Kestner-Museum.

From the cold, I entered the smallish but sleek Journal Gallery. The installation was a large, weathered disco ball on the concrete floor. It used to be in Lang’s boutique and then was left outside in Long Island. (To accumulate aura?) Like a big fallen ornament, it was a study of unfestiveness. Reflections dotted the walls, ghostly reminders that this was “after the party.” If a New Yorker cartoon had to sketch a perfectly “hip” awkward situation, they couldn’t have done a better job: a bunch of not particularly friendly people lurking around a fallen disco ball in a space too small for them not to feel conspicuous. It was fabulous. A few hipsters (the journal’s staff, Lang’s affable assistant) chatted among themselves. The rest of us hovered awkwardly around the fallen ball, holding cold beers, approaching the thing, and scrutinizing it formally—looking for something in the emptied-out oracle. I made eye contact with my fellow gallery goers, as if this weren’t “the art-world equivalent of an elevator,” as some wag later nailed it.

Left: Team Gallery's Alex Logsdail with the journal's Cynthia Leung and Julia Dippelhofer. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: A view of Helmut Lang's “Next Ever After.” (Photo: Kathe Burkhart)

“I like the shadow,” offered one guy in a parka, before protectively whipping out his gadget.

I decided to aggressively chat up whoever.

“Are you an artist?” I asked a natty chap in architect-y glasses and a trench coat.

“Well,” he perked up, “I’m thinking of making some artwork—about Pop Conceptualism.” We peered thoughtfully at the messed-up ball. “That’s Conceptual, right?” he pondered. He was an art director at Grey Advertising.

Alas, Lang was unable to attend (due to fabulosity?). He was on Long Island, reported his assistant. As the space filled up into a more typical crowded opening (“That’s Cecilia Dean from Visionaire,” spotted a pal, “and the photographer from the MisShapes”), the wan, hip ball was the deflated centerpiece of the scene.

“There’s not one person here I’d wanna fuck,” kvetched someone nearby. It was an art-meets-fashion evening in Williamsburg.