MEMORIES OF RIVINGTON ARMS form a palimpsest: the old, bright white gallery space on Rivington Street; cadged to-go margaritas in Styrofoam cups from the Hat down the street; the ever-present opening sidewalk sprawl. There were the close quarters; the move north, to Joey Ramone Place, just off the Bowery; dinners at Kelly & Ping; the casual, louche booths at sundry art fairs; the parade of ghostly artists now gone from the gallery; and the familiar presence of those who stayed. A phalanx of Rivington Arms veterans, past and present, guarded the door Thursday night at the gallery’s last-ever opening, for “Geraniums,” the debut solo show by the young New York–based artist Uri Aran: Darren Bader, Lansing-Dreiden, Mathew Cerletty, John Finneran, and, of course, the two dealers themselves, Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden, champagne very much in hand.
Rivington Arms, a gallery known since it opened in 2001 for a steady, Argus-eyed prescience, will now take the lead once more and close in January. Not that we were meant to mourn: “Make it sound fun!” said Marden, laughing off my suggestion that the torrential rain and freezing cold outside had somehow conspired to push the gallery off, Viking-style, on a watery, storm-tossed pyre. “We’re too young to die.”
This was a fact no one had told Aran, whose diffuse work—a neon dolphin hung on the wall; scattered, smudged billiard balls on a table; and a wooden desk, drawers out, tilted on its side and giving birth to a scrolling, electric-powered mock aquarium—included actual, if minuscule, jets of flame surrounding a canister of fish food on a rear pedestal. The presence of free-flowing gas, and of certain artists smoking nearby in the spirit of revelers celebrating their last night in a condemned building, threatened to dovetail in a theatrical, premature, and unintentionally fiery finale: not the send-off anyone had in mind.
Bader—sometime Rivington Arms curator, artist, and ubiquitous friend—copped to being only “one-third” nostalgic. The other two-thirds? “Horny” and, looking out on the deluge outside, “wet.” Cerletty, when pressed, went for “end of an era.” (Somebody had to say it, I guess.) Other artists (Elizabeth Neel, Matt Keegan, Hope Atherton, Jeremy Eilers, Georgia Sagri, Ronnie Bass, and Davis Rhodes) and dealers (Gavin Brown, Casey Kaplan, RENTAL’s Joel Mesler, Museum 52’s Matthew Dipple) stopped by to pay their respects. Over the years, “you get used to the repetition,” said Marden, gazing around. “It hasn’t really sunk in.”
It was indeed hard to be particularly sentimental walking the long blocks between the gallery and its after-party, at the Pink Pony, as heretofore unknown Houston Street headwinds and river formations blasted away anything but the desire to be dry and indoors. In the back of the restaurant, friends clustered in booths. Aran beamed in the corner. “They’ve been so kind,” the artist said, gesturing over to the head table, where Mirabelle and Melissa were holding court. What were his plans now that his newfound gallery was vanishing? “Make a lot of work,” he said, and, in the immediate short term, “Try not to get too drunk.”
Family (Brice and Helen and Melia Marden, Eliza Bent) circled around. The liquor ran out, mercifully, just before things got maudlin. The familiarity of the scene was its own kind of reassurance: This was the exact same gathering of friends that, over the past seven years, had become something solid and reliable. There would be a next time. Cerletty, making for the door, paused to bid his now-former reps farewell: “There’s another party where we all hug each other and stuff, right?”