Sashay Away

Patrick Staff's work on display at Commonwealth and Council's booth, Frieze London 2019. Photo: Linda Nylind. Courtesy Linda Nylind / Frieze.

I HAD FORGOTTEN how brutal London can be. Brutal in the sense that there is nothing effortless about everyday life in this gray world capital. After four days of tubing, training, queuing, and sprinting around the seventeenth edition of Frieze London, I was back on a flight across the big pond. Sinking into my seat, finally feeling somewhat at rest, I opened Benjamin Moser’s Susan Sontag biography to page forty-nine, where I had left off when my plane touched down at Heathrow a few days prior: “I’m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation,” read the Sontag quote. Right. Perhaps London’s demanding obstacle course is there to prevent one from ever, as the Pet Shop Boys once so perfectly put it, “being boring.”

Boring was not the problem last week, especially at Victoria Miro’s Tuesday night party at her Wharf Road headquarters. Instagram addicts might have already witnessed images of RuPaul, legendary supermodel turned supermother of the world, serving vernissage realness. I thought my phone might fail capturing the gallery’s director Glenn Scott Wright introducing Ru to Grayson Perry and Isaac Julien—but it quit shortly after, amid the storm of DMs after I posted the pic. Not pictured was Hilton Als, who was standing there just moments before, in town as curator of Kara Walker’s film and video survey at Sprüth Magers, a worthy counterpart to her incredible Hyundai commission for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, the monumental fountain Fons Americanus.

RuPaul sighting. Photo: Rui Mateus Amaral.

Ru was absent from other events during the week’s evening adventures, which began in earnest with Maureen Paley’s casual Sunday supper for Liam Gillick at Saint John and proceeded through the usual fetes. On Monday there was the second annual Friends of the ICA dinner, this time honoring postcolonial thinker Homi K. Bhabha and introducing a new board chair, the artist Wolfgang Tillmans. (The outgoing chair, Hadeel Ibrahim, noted that last year’s honoree, Chelsea Manning, has been in jail since May for her continued refusal to testify against Julian Assange.) The dinner faced stiff competition, I heard, from Pilar Corrias’s dinner party at the Standard for Tschabalala Self and Pace’s party for Song Dong, but alas I missed them all.

Ru made another cameo at Wednesday’s Frieze preview, and my phone popped off again with colleagues asking if I’d seen him roaming the tent. (I guess Keira Knightley, Russell Tovey, and Michèle Lamy sightings are just business as usual now.) Indeed, I had seen him, bedecked in a black cowboy hat and perusing the latest offerings with his husband, the Wyoming rancher Georges LeBar. Ru knows a thing or two about transformation, and while it seemed that Britain’s terrifying EU exit is prompting an exodus of business, here was Ru, in town for his own ball, to launch the first season of Drag Race UK. It was at the fair that day, seeing him sashay in and out of stands, that I felt—trite as it may sound—hopeful. This feeling spirited me through the evening, where those in town divided themselves among the Elizabeth Peyton private view at the National Portrait Gallery; the launch of the South Africa–based Goodman Gallery’s soigné new London outpost on Cork Street; an opera by Pan Daijing at Tate Modern; and drinks or dinners hosted by David Zwirner (at Isabel), White Cube (at Chiltern Firehouse), Hauser & Wirth (at Loulou’s), and Company and Arcadia Missa (at TOLA).

Cy Twombly, A Time to Remain, A Time to Go Away (detail), 1998–2001. Photo: Rui Mateus Amaral.

I was hopeful through Thursday afternoon, as I caught sight of a plaster Cy Twombly sculpture at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill etched with the phrase A TIME TO REMAIN, A TIME TO GO AWAY. That evening there was even more to choose from, including Louise O’Kelly’s evening of performances at the DRAF and a reception hosted by the Delfina Foundation. But the weather was a mess, and what should have been a ten-minute Uber to my dinner at 5 Hertford Street from Danh Vo and Joshua Chambers-Letson’s talk at Asia House turned out to be a misadventure three times as long thanks to a series of roadblocks and backups in Marylebone. Still, my company that night—the artist couple Rodney Graham and Shannon Oksanen, Lisson Gallery’s Alex Logsdail, Louise Hayward, and Claus Robenhagen—more than made up for it. After our meal, we slinked downstairs to a dance floor marked by a cartoonish, multicolored sun whose glittering rays stretched outward from the center of the room. My night was ending the way my day had begun: That morning, I had attended curator Mark Godfrey’s private walkthrough of Olafur Eliasson’s Tate Modern retrospective “In Real Life.” Now, it was like I was walking through Beauty, the artist’s misty 1993 light installation that simulates Iceland’s shimmering, sometimes amorphous rainbows. Just as I had moved through his synthetic rainbow, I was now stomping it out on some childish fantasy of the sun. Soon, given the environment’s drastic transmutations (another pressing concern overheard among fairgoers this week), mockups of natural phenomena may very well be all we have to hold on to.

In the club’s glow, we danced. I’ve always coped and hoped this way. The music? Disco. If we’ve ever been out together, you can picture how that night ended. I put my faith and my body in the DJ to save my life from a broken heart.