“IT’S BACK!” my editor e-mailed me. “Seems it’s going to be an art-world ritual after all. Any interest in going for round two?”
My first thought? No! I should get an award for covering this award show again. I gave my take on it the first time. If the second piece comes out blah, it’ll be humiliating! Plus, “It’s horrible to see other people validated.” Just kidding! I really couldn’t be more delighted to see people recognized for their work. After all, what is the writer, according to John Gregory Dunne, but the person with “their nose pressed up against the glass”?
In this case, I was seated at a pretty good table last Wednesday at Webster Hall, where Rob Pruitt’s 2010 Art Awards were held on a bitterly cold night. Shivering near the stage in the middle of the cavernous and chilly Grand Ballroom, I could read the teleprompter along with the presenters (“Marina: (a little brash) ‘Some say one is the loneliest . . . ’ ”). One-thousand-dollar-a-plate ticket holders (it was a fundraiser for the Gugg and White Columns) and working girls like myself schmoozed and gawked around the Jeff Koons balloon-animal centerpieces. On our laps were John Baldessari napkins: giant white T-shirts that read PURE SLOB. (Too bad I didn’t see anyone actually wearing one, though it was certainly cold enough in the room for layering.)
Across from me—alas, out of earshot—the Artist was Present: Marina Abramović exuded the same focused gaze on the proceedings that she had displayed in her recent MoMA staring marathon. In retrospect, I think she was willing herself an award the whole time. (Best Solo Show of the Year: Museum. She beat three dead men. Take that, Yves Klein, Otto Dix, and Charles Burchfield!) Klaus Biesenbach was in a bubbly mood. Linda Yablonsky is thinner and blonder every time I see her. Michael Stipe was looking dapper with a convenient MICHAEL STIPE nametag on his lapel. Arty! He served me polenta, making nice eye contact, and I think that was the highlight of my evening. He would be an amazing waiter. But the person I really talked to sat next to me: Abramović’s holistic healer, a Santa Fe–based acupuncturist who travels with Abramović and said she has several clients in the art world, including three who happen to be in MoMA, but she wouldn’t name names.
Wearing the same Calvin Klein suit he had gotten for free at last year’s Calvin Klein–sponsored shindig at the Gugg, Rob Pruitt was onstage less this time. The creative vision of the event was as coherent and considered and as tightly curated as before, though perhaps the uptown venue seemed more glam. An astute child of appropriation art and a post-Pop product, Pruitt gave us a “representation” of an awards show that was self-consciously both real and a send-up.
As the foxy and droll host, Glenn O’Brien did much of the evening’s heavy lifting, Oscars-style. He made his entrance, like thousands of visitors to MoMA this year, awkwardly squeezing between two flat-affect naked people. (The program thanked Marina Abramović “for graciously allowing us to recreate Imponderabilia as our show opener.”) He endorsed the sex appeal of each of the presenters (as “the sexy Amalia Dayan and the hunky Adam Lindemann” nervously read their lines, someone hooted out, “Hunky!”) and he kept things humming with a steady stream of art-world stand-up—even appropriately appropriated jokes: “A panda walks into a bar . . . ” he began, then elaborated how he “got that joke from Richard Prince via Henny Youngman who bought it from Sigmund Freud . . . ” Meta! And a perfect instance of how the event filtered celeb culture through the art world and its “practices.” And vice versa. Two people in giant panda suits did a charming duet with canes: the showbiz version of Pruitt’s signature pandas.
Lucky de Bellevue was nervous about giving a speech if he won. But he didn’t, so that was OK. “I’m embarrassed to be here,” confided a painter as she struggled to process what was happening. No glamorous cultural event would be complete without the ubiquitous James Franco. The It Boy strutted and camped and titillated his fans as the “butch” half of a duet with performance artiste Kalup Linzy, who sported a ladies’ wig. I think they were crooning “asshole” over and over again. I was told, “They’re, like, besties.”
Martha Rosler took a picture of the standing ovation she received for her Lifetime Achievement award. She’s a Leo, I recalled. The pioneering feminist artist was “grateful to Jonas—because I kind of look like a teenager compared to him.” Fellow Lifetime Achiever Jonas Mekas, who actually looked quite dashing in his fedora, gave a rousing speech that was like a cosmic wake-up call, spiced up by his Lithuanian accent: “Everybody dies but that is good because if they didn’t the world would be so cluttered. Art is here so that everything could become more beautiful and more subtle. So let’s enjoy this moment now; that’s what life is all about!” (Applause by drunk crowd.) “And that’s what art is all about.” (More applause by drunk crowd.) “Life is real. We are here now to make life more beautiful.”
“That was a real performance,” declared Klaus Biesenbach.