Bowery Girls

New York

Left: Rivington Arms' Melissa Bent with David Shapiro. Right: Artist Le Tigre's JD Samson with friend Megan.

Openings at the four-year old Rivington Arms have always been mob scenes, and, on the evidence of last Thursday’s unveiling, the gallery’s relocation to Second Street at the Bowery will calm them down not one bit. With new photographs and a video from Hanna Liden, the room was packed unpleasantly tight, with three times as many people outside, leaning against parked cars and exchanging glances. The distinctive mix of New York subcultures that the gallery has brought together over the years is now so tightly defined that it borders on self-parody: look left for Anne Collier and Matthew Higgs, or Tara Subkoff, or grinning chaps from Wall Street; look right for a cluster of uptown preps, Terence Koh, and proud parents of proprietress Mirabelle, Brice and Helen Marden. See Roberta Smith rub shoulders with grubby skateboarders and wild-eyed grad students. Great fun.

The new gallery is elegant, with wide floorboards, lean parentheses of exposed brick around the gallery drywall, and a delightful rustic double arch across the middle. It’s seems twice the size of the old storefront shoebox but not nearly as large as a typical Chelsea warehouse, a comfortable transitional space. Hard to know if gallerists Marden and Melissa Bent are aware of the ghosts in the foundations, but the new Rivington Arms sits atop an apartment that played a massive part in the lives of a quiet contingent of the night’s visitors. “That is a real piece of New York history,” a former schoolmate of Marden’s pointed out, with strong, if mixed, emotions. But the bygone age to which she referred was hardly antique, and perhaps unlikely to inspire universal sentiment: “Scotto lived there. He orchestrated the entire rave scene [with N.A.S.A at Shelter Club, a near-mythical weekly party for early ’90s New Yorkers] and kids were there all day, every day, coming up or coming down. I took my first hit of acid there. A lot of people did.”

Left: Artist Patrick O'Dell and aNYthing's A-ron the Don. Right: Artist John Finneran.

The afterparty took place a block away at The Cock, the recently-relocated gay bar on the site of another known as The Hole, where the gallery crowd were squashed against bemused regulars while enjoying the open bar and a chance to flout the city’s smoking ban. The name change has not made the place much less of a hole. Again, it was impossible to move, and the crowd swayed as best they could to cheery tunes spun by fashion designer Benjamin Cho. A small space cleared momentarily and Marden seized the opportunity to dance among a few old friends. I spoke with pinstriped photographer Hollister Lowe, who had braved the second phase of the evening, to find out what he was making of it all. “Rivington Arms openings are always great because of the people they attract,” he told me, “I come for the inspiration of the crowd.”

Make-up had run and free drinks disappeared by 11:00 PM, and the party ended on schedule. Another bacchanal was evidently starting, for the bartender had begun dancing in his drawers on the bar and upfront hustlers were chitchatting by the entrance. I stood on the street with John Finneran, a native New Yorker now based in Cape May, whose second solo show will open at Rivington Arms in November. We conducted dizzying simultaneous debates about the gallery and the Mets’ energetic start to the season, both of which ended with “they’re just getting started,” the qualified optimism of the long-suffering fan. Bent appeared, impressively still dressed to the nines in the floor-length, slate ball gown and updo in which she’d started the evening. A dishy boyfriend draped his blazer over her shoulders and they disappeared into the night. A-ron the Don, a downtown figure for more than a decade, rolled up on a bicycle to press the flesh, then pushed off. A painfully skinny man in his fifties or sixties came sputtering out of the door. “That’s Rene Ricard,” Finneran said casually, the poet who wrote the first major essay on Basquiat in 1981, a groundbreaking piece in the now-well-worn mold of mythologizing the very young and very gorgeous. It wasn’t the night’s first reminder that art bohemias old and new can’t help but overlap and intermingle, the energy of the junior inflecting the wisdom of the senior and—it’s to be hoped—vice versa.

Left: Michelle Harper and artist James Brittingham. Right: LMCC associate curator Adam Kleinman and artist Nick Frankfurt.