Good Jeans

Rhonda Lieberman at openings for Rob Pruitt and Karen Kilimnick

New York

Left: Artist Rob Pruitt. Right: Drew Barrymore with Fabrizio Moretti. (All photos: David Velasco)

Descending from the dark closet where I hang upside down coated in a thin layer of Vaseline, I ventured out for a doubleheader of openings by two of the bestest artists to emerge ca. 1990—the last time I went out regularly. I arrived at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, my first stop, early. Not many art appreciators were there to block my view of Rob Pruitt’s hilarious installation: big fancy abstract paintings twinkling with the artist’s signature glitter, innertube objets encrusted with more sparkly “action painting,” and (literally) heavy-duty floor pieces composed entirely of cement-filled jeans (Levi’s, Sasson, brands from every price point): Five stuffed pairs “sitting up” created a starfish; a snakelike lineup of several more doing splits straddled the floor like a team of torso-free cheerleaders; denim couples, oozing cement cellulite, spooned, mounted each other, and/or tempted one to sit on them like furniture. It was like a casualwear version of Richard Serra. It all struck me as very American (“The Levi’s HQ in SF should buy it,” John Waters helpfully suggested later) and droll, despite the disturbing dismemberment references. I wondered whether all these half bodies, like the whimsically styled remains of a bomb site, would disturb the gallery’s feng shui? Your diarist loitered, hoping to recognize someone, even Pruitt, who wasn’t there yet—but the only semiengaging creature was a basset hound (I didn’t catch its name). So I headed up to 303 to the Karen Kilimnik opening.

Here, too, I didn’t recognize anyone—except Kilimnik and gallery owner Lisa Spellman. (I should get out more.) Kilimnik is the queen of girly installation stuff, which still looks great, and one of those artists, I’ve noticed, who consistently omit their year of birth from their bios. She’s an ageless ingenue—tonight, in jeans, no makeup, and an untucked white tuxedo shirt. I soon spotted Sofia Coppola and was immediately occupied with whether I would/could stalk her or not—a tricky operation, since the place wasn’t big and I had to stick around until the dinner. Plus she made eye contact and seemed weirdly normal, though she was flanked by a pair of PR minders: a perky gay guy and an aggressive-looking gal with a Fendi logo bag, both of whom chatted with her intently while eyeing everyone around them eyeing her while Sofia herself seemed oblivious. I wanted to tell her I loved her in Godfather: Part III (her casting was a genius, meta-, Coppola-as-Corleone-dynasty moment) but decided just to get a good look, discreetly or not. For a superconnected rich person, she has great personal style, which is surprisingly not usually the case. Plus I like to see ethnic-looking petites pull it off. She was prim but not stiff in a steel blue, shape-hiding—the fashion press informed me she’s pregnant—sheath (Marc Jacobs?), black ballet flats, classic Chanel shoulder bag, and intense red lipstick on a bare-ish face. Her hair wasn’t too done. She must have been pooped (Fashion Week just ended) but pored over each piece intently, flanked by the handlers.

Left: Sofia Coppola. Right: Artists Elizabeth Peyton and Spencer Sweeney.

Like Coppola, with her recent film Marie Antoinette, Kilimnik was having a French-history moment with a rock sound track. Was this a coincidence? In the front room of the gallery was an installation of a Napoleonic campaign tent. Striped fabric with fleur-de-lis enclosed the general’s crib: a mise-en-scène that featured an Empire desk styled with plastic toy soldiers, old maps, and a neoclassical helmet. I plotzed in the old leather chair and watched people peer at an antique sword, a dear painting of an ocelot, and a rare candid portrait of an Empire-era officer laughing that looked like a handmade paparazzi shot. Strauss marches and the Who emanated from speakers inside the desk in the mishmash of period flourishes and rock ‘n’ roll that Sofia, too, is working this season. Someone wanted to buy just the ocelot painting, but was told the whole “tent” was for sale for like three hundred thousand dollars.

The dinner afterward, at the Russian Samovar, was subdued, despite the many flavors of vodka. “These dinners are boring,” said one collector’s wife, appreciating that I had bothered to engage her. “People are doing business.” “I saw Baryshnikov holding forth here once at a long table,” shared one curator, as we enjoyed gobs of smoked salmon and discussed unhelpful colleagues. “I wonder if this is where they shot that scene in Sex and the City?” Indeed, in keeping with the meta-ness of the evening, I recalled that Aleksandr Petrovsky, Carrie Bradshaw’s superserious artist paramour (played by Baryshnikov), was perhaps the only character ever to read Artforum on TV. He made “light installations.” Looking over the private room of museum people, gallerists, and a few collectors, Karen’s mother noted, as if surprised, “There aren’t any African-American people here.” She was expecting a mix, “like back in Philadelphia.” I wanted to ask all kinds of nosy questions. Instead I chatted with John Waters about Anna Nicole Smith’s recent mishap. He was dismayed by her druggie train wreck of a “reality show.” Anna Nicole Smith is every couch potato’s dream: a total vegetable with an unlimited budget. Her lawyer spoke for her. Bobby Trendy shopped for her. She did absolutely nothing but consume. Like Edith Massey, I observed, the “egg lady” in Waters’s legendary Pink Flamingos, but with money. Waters was genuinely moved, he said, when Massey’s brother wrote in a recent, self-published bio that Edith had always wanted to be a glamorous, Marilyn-like movie star, but couldn’t “of course”—because of her weight—until Waters came along and made her dream come true! Even better, according to Waters, Massey’s dying wish was to have her ashes flung on Marilyn Monroe’s grave in Westwood Village Cemetary. Another wish granted. “Trespassing!” he chuckled, delighted.

Left: Artists Jonathan Horowitz and Jack Pierson. Right: Dealer Gavin Brown.

Left: Artist Ryan McGinley. Right: 303 Gallery director Mari Spirito with Greene-Naftali gallery director Jay Sanders.

Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps with Matthew Marks's Sabrina Buell. Right: Artist Cecily Brown.