All Apologies

Sarah Nicole Prickett at the Annual Friends of Artists Space dinner

Left: Artist Nan Goldin. Right: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár, Michael Stipe, and artist Thomas Dozol. (All photos: Benjamin Lozovsky)

AT THE UKRAINIAN NATIONAL HOME on Second Avenue, on Monday night at 8:25 PM, guests of Artists Space filled the four-foot band between the entrance to the room and the dinner tables. Staffers scrambled to sort the handwritten name tags that matched the attendees to their seats. “Just when you thought there was no more drama to be had,” a woman was saying to her companion. The dinner was in honor of Nan Goldin, so she could have been referring to anything: the seating arrangements, a photograph, a recently surfaced affair.

A third of the guests had just come back from the Venice Biennale, and two-thirds were planning on going to Frieze. It was humid in New York, without ever having been hot, and it felt like storming. People seemed surprised that they were out. “I had a weird day,” said three different artists severally in the space of ten minutes. One artist was Juliana Huxtable, who was set without a set list to DJ the afterparty, and who was dressed in something clingy with a fresh French manicure (the Grown Woman look is back). Another was Michele Abeles, wearing a matte pink shift dress printed with icons of fashion: Chanel perfume, Comme des Garçons hearts (the tag said Wacky Wacky). Ben, the official photographer for the night, came by to take a picture of Abeles and Daniel Chew, and Abeles said, “I’m sorry. I’m not ready.”

“I’ll tell you a secret,” said Marilyn Minter. She told it. “Now I’ll tell you a secret you can publish: Your thirties are better than your twenties. So much better! Your forties are better than your thirties. So much better! Your fifties are better than your forties, and your sixties are better than your fifties, and if you’re an artist like me or like Nan”—she meant an artist of a certain age, and of a certain bigtime feminine desirousness—“well, when you’re either dead or almost dead, everyone loves you.” She laughed. “Even the people who shouldn’t.”

Left: Negar Azimi, Pati Hertling, and Al Gilio. Right: Artists Juliana Huxtable and Emily Sundblad.

The same could be said of bohemia, which is very cool for the 2015 summer season. Here’s just one example: “Bohemia” is the theme of Texte zur Kunst’s new issue, with a long piece by Douglas Coupland on bohemia as classlessness. There are probably other examples, too. “I lived in bohemia,” David Hockney told The Guardian last week, “and bohemia is a tolerant place. You can’t have a smoke-free bohemia. You can’t have a drug-free bohemia.” Stefan Kalmár, the director of Artists Space, quoted these lines at the beginning of his speech, but in the mean (I mean German) way he said it, it seemed like he was saying that bohemia kills, and that tonight, we were honoring a survivor.

“Nan Goldin is the Mother Teresa of the Mary Magdalene set,” Glenn O’Brien said to cheers in the middle of his laudation. Later he added that Goldin—whose curation of the 1989 Artists Space exhibition “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing” made her a queer-radical bogeywoman of the Reagan era—was so forgiving, she’s probably forgiven you before you realize you’ve hurt her. Yet it was Goldin who showed off the Scott Campbell tattoo on her arm: I’m sorry, inked in a childish hand and rainbow letters. “I apologize before I fuck you over,” she told a room that spanned four, five generations, “I’m always, always sorry for anything I’ve done to hurt anybody—anybody in this room. Most of ’em.” At the end of her few-minute speech, she got a standing ovation. “It’s funny,” an arts lawyer said at the afterparty, “to think of how divisive her personality was.” The arts lawyer wasn’t the first guest to hint at the divisiveness of Goldin’s “personality”—that time-honored way to dismiss a woman when you don’t want to dismiss, or even discuss, her work—and nor was she the first to add that, actually, the dinner had felt really…nice, like a family affair. (People in this part of the art world must have unusually nice families.)

Left: Artist Marilyn Minter and Glenn O’Brien. Right: No Bra.

The afterparty was at Happy Ending, the new last good club in New York, and the bouncer was working overtime to keep its entrance smoke-free. Dutifully standing six feet away was the official photographer, Ben. He rolled me a cigarette. Very bohemian, I thought. “Shooting a party on the Lower East Side for Nan Goldin—it’s a trip,” he said. “What she did in the ’80s and ’90s was so raw and perfect, like an accident. It’s hard to imagine getting images like that now. Everyone’s so aware of the camera. Everyone looks at red-carpet photos, everyone’s sort of posed like celebrities.” Everyone, perhaps, except No Bra, who had performed at the dinner with her hair down over her nipples, her signature classlessness, then pulled on a Motherfuckers tee—all of which I’d dismiss as anarcho-chic were it not for the discovery that her e-mail address is at Hotmail. (Hotmail at this point is either punk or it’s the next theme of Texte zur Kunst.) I asked Ben if he thought that the dinner felt family-ish. “I shoot a lot of art parties, and I’ve been shooting the Artists Space parties for four years now, and this one did feel special,” he said. “But, I mean, it was Nan Goldin. Everyone loves Nan Goldin.”

It was a little after midnight, and there wasn’t going to be any drama, so I stood outside and waited for a car. A man I know came up on his skateboard. I thought I shouldn’t talk to him but I did. It started to rain the softest bit. In the car I stared at a text message that said “don’t be a stranger” and I thought how many years it would take.