One More Minute


Left: Salem's Jack Donoghue, curator Kathy Grayson, and Salem's John Holland. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton) Right: Garage Center for Contemporary Culture founder Dasha Zhukova and Natalia Vodianova. (Photo: Nikolay Zverkov for Garage Center for Contemporary Culture)

LAST FRIDAY, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture opened its doors for “New York Minute,” an expansion of the 2009 group exhibition at MACRO in Rome. The show whirls together a raucous, at times willfully tasteless take on “New York,” which here translates to a scrappy street-punk style spiked with a certain glamorous credibility: in short, graffiti pegged with aggressively design-conscious wall labels. (“Deitch meets Place des Vosges?” one French curator suggested.)

In putting together the show, curator Kathy Grayson seemed to make lifestyle part of the aesthetic criteria, noting in the press release that the fifty-plus participating artists had all “exhibited together, partied together, dated each other, studied together or painted together.” It’s like the Gossip Girl of traveling exhibitions.

Touching down on the runway in Moscow, I pondered what it meant to fly ten hours from JFK to spend two days looking at . . . the New York scene. Before I could give it too much thought, my phone starting buzzing with frantically traded rumors: “The curator’s been denied entry to Russia!” “Terence Koh’s been arrested on Red Square!” So maybe this weekend held more in store than a mere Deitch Projects family reunion?

Left: Artist Terence Koh. (Photo: Rafael de Cárdenas) Right: Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist with Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

That evening I met up with Rafael de Cárdenas, Spencer Sweeney, and some of the other participating artists at the Strelka Institute of Architecture, Media and Design––the It bar for Moscow’s savvier VIPsters, where one can drink raspberry mojitos with Rem Koolhaas and the mix of artists, architects, designers, and thinkers the institute brings together. We had barely finished ordering the first round of vodkas when discussion turned to the text-message gossip. It seems a bureaucratic error had indeed sent Grayson to Ukraine to get an emergency visa the night before the opening. As for Koh, apparently he wasn’t arrested, though his performance—in which he donned a crimson-colored mourning shroud and tried to lay a scarlet gladiola at Lenin’s mausoleum in honor of the leader’s birthday (April 22)—was promptly halted by Moscow police. “The thing is, he wasn’t really even doing anything—I mean, just wearing red,” one of the artists explained. “Seriously, I feel like I’ve seen him looking weirder just walking around the Lower East Side.”

At the opening the following day, Koh was able to perform without interruption (though, ironically, it consisted of him just messing with. . . er, “blessing” everyone else’s pieces––from wooing Evan Gruzi’s mannequin to kissing a Joe Bradley painting to walking right through Kembra Pfahler’s performance). Those not following the procession could be found appreciating Dash Snow’s wall of blown-up Polaroids, Sterling Ruby’s spray-painted canvas, Martha Friedman’s columns of cast rubber knots, and Sweeney’s upside-down police car, suspended from the ceiling and hung with a disco ball to make an impromptu dance floor. “You should DJ under that!” someone suggested. The artist cracked a half-smile: “Yeah, right . . . ”

Around the corner, curator Andrey Erofeev was taking cell phone photos of Barry McGee’s lifelike graffiti artist, captured as if midact alongside a sprawling wall-size tag. (“I thought it was a performance at first,” Erofeev admitted with a shrug.) I paused to watch Moscow veterans Vladimir Dubossarsky and Anatoly Osmolovsky size up assume vivid astro focus’s inflatable, Day-Glo, multi-genital Skydancers, before I followed Dia director Philippe Vergne into the “Cuba in Revolution” exhibition, which had traveled from New York’s International Center of Photography. “Did you see that picture of Castro entering Soviet airspace?” Jeffrey Deitch marveled. Vergne nodded, leaning in to examine an image of Castro gleefully sledding on an old Russian rug: “This show almost feels more revolutionary, doesn’t it?”

Left: Dia Foundation director Philippe Vergne with artist Aidan Salakhova. Right: Artist Jim Drain.

Tearing myself away from the portraits of Che Guevara, I rejoined the revelers around the café, where model Natalia Vodianova and textile artist Olya Thompson chatted on a couch with Christie’s Matthew Stephenson, and Olympia Scarry and curator Neville Wakefield poked at the bowls of truffles lining the tables. McGee was coercing his crew into posing for snapshots while Friedman and Brendan Lynch traded Moscow to-do lists over a bottle of wine. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Deitch chose an area slightly removed from the crowd, next to the enormous Zilvinas Kempinas installation ribbing the Garage’s atrium (which gave them a great vantage point but also made them vulnerable to the bolder local artists, who gathered by the bar to practice their introductions). Meanwhile, Dasha Zhukova, looking her usual state of flawless, made the rounds, introducing herself to the artists in the show and thanking them for their work.

The dinner for forty that evening at Solyanka—a club whose piecemeal “vintage” furnishing gives it the Craigslist-chic look of a summer-after-college apartment—was held family-style in the venue’s smallest room. In one corner, Roman Abramovich nestled casually on a sofa, picking at plates of salmon tartar and hummus, while around him oblivious (or simply unaffected?) partygoers vied for ambiguous-looking spring rolls. “Yesterday I peed next to Him,” one of the visiting artists later confided. “You’d best believe I was craning my neck to get a peek. I mean, a handsome, redheaded billionaire––who’s even Jewish! My mother would die . . . ”

Rumor had it that Michigan-based sensations Salem would take the stage later on, but the dance floor was well under siege by the monthly Love Boat party and it didn’t look like anyone was giving up their ground. So instead I hijacked a Garage chauffeur and absconded with cultural maven Anna Dyulgerova, Sweeney, and Lynch to Simachev, where DJs Sergey Poydo and Dima Ustinov were keeping things rowdy (while the bartenders kept things blurry).

Meanwhile, speculation as to Salem’s supposed concert was flooding social networking sites, escalating to a point where one tastemaker was taken seriously when he posted that the group would perform after the morning spinning class at World Class Fitness, a comically posh gym in the center of Moscow. In the end, I couldn’t stay for the actual Salem performance when it did happen, as I had to catch my flight to JFK the next morning. Odd to find myself back on the runway, wishing I had a few extra minutes in Moscow to take in the full “New York” experience.

Kate Sutton

Left: Artist Spencer Sweeney. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield with artist Olympia Scarry.

Not Safe for Work

Los Angeles

Left: Artist Frances Stark. Right: Dexter Sinister's Stuart Bailey and artist Silke Otto-Knapp. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

WHAT ARE THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN personal and professional? The most serious artists, it’s often said, refuse the cult of personality and spurn the biographic. “It’s about the work,” goes the bromide. But sometimes it’s the bleed between labor and life that makes the best material, a fact made brilliantly evident by Frances Stark’s performance I’ve Had It and a Half last Sunday at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The press release promised “adult themes,” not “suitable for all audiences.” This wasn’t going to be personal in the decorative, Facebook sense of the term.

As the audience settled into the cushy red theater seats beneath the spacey neon lights of the Wilder Theater, a string sextet began playing a divertimento by Haydn (one that he had composed explicitly as a kind of background music for parties). The sounds accompanied a PowerPoint presentation projected onto the screen—derived in part from a 2009 exhibition Stark made with Mark Leckey at Galerie Daniel Buchholz—that featured writing by Witold Gombrowicz:

“What in reality is a person aiming at nowadays who feels a vocation for the pen, the paint-brush, or the clarinet? Above all, he wants to be an artist to offer himself whole to others [. . .] But here you run into trouble. The awkward fact is that you are neither Chopin nor Shakespeare but at most a half-Shakespeare, or a quarter-Chopin (oh! Cursed parts!), and consequently the sole result of your attitude is to draw attention to your sad inadequacy and inferiority . . . ”

The PowerPoint clicked off and Stark mounted the stage. Sporting a black hat and tie, she resembled a dapper impresario—of what exactly, it was still unclear. Stark asked that the audience not take pictures or video, noting that there was deeply personal information in the performance, and she wouldn’t want visual evidence floating around the Internet. I suppose there’s public—a free performance at a museum amid an assembly of well-wishers, acquaintances, friends, and fans—and then there’s public. Then the lights went down, and things began to get more intimate.

Left: Hammer Museum senior curator Anne Ellegood. Right: Contemporary Art Gallery Vancouver curator Jenifer Papararo and artist Aaron Carpenter.

Stark grabbed a hat on the stage and from it began to randomly pluck out pieces of paper. These notes pointed to texts she would then read to us—personal letters mostly, some about writing as work, all inflected with the details of life. Then the performance took a sharp left turn. The next PowerPoint, again accompanied by Haydn’s divertimento, was a back-and-forth conversation—words appearing and disappearing on either side of the screen—with one of Stark’s many Internet lovers, men she never physically met but with whom she regularly coupled online. Stark’s long-term partner was sitting behind me, wearing an expression of patient support. One Internet lover, Marcello, was Italian. Stark sent him an essay I wrote on her that had been translated into his native language. “Nice,” was Marcello’s response to my piece. “He loves you.” I sunk lower into my seat in the front row. “Masturbation is a monologue,” another lover mentioned later on. “A genre unto itself.”

Marcello told Stark to watch Fellini’s 8 1/2, and then we the audience watched clips of Marcello Mastroianni playing a director whose life is unraveling, his vaguely autobiographical film falling apart as his fantasy life begins to intrude on his reality. Then, two crude digital animations appeared on-screen. Clad in nothing but Edenic fig leaves, they conversed on a green field. The “Frances” avatar told her interlocutor, an unnamed Spaniard, that she had broken it off with everyone but him, keeping their relationship intact because it had developed into a real friendship.

As the performance-screening-concert-monologue ended, we saw amid the credits, in lightning-fast slide shows, an army of engorged cocks, faces off-camera, lubricious goods in hand: a visual compendium of Chatroulettes.

Many in the audience slipped out to cocktails at the Tavern, a mile away in Brentwood. Stuart Bailey of Dexter Sinister, Gavin Brown (in town for this and a party for artist Laura Owens), and I talked loosely about life over beers and champagne, regaling one another with stories about our kids, reminiscing over those times when we’d found ourselves uncontrollably emotional in public. I pondered aloud the attraction and repulsion one feels seeing someone else being so emotional and so intimate, so openly.

After a few drinks I got up to leave and ran into Stark. As I congratulated her on the performance, someone joked, “Was it as excruciating for you as it was for us?”

“Was it excruciating?” Stark replied, bemused. Yes, but not in that way. Excruciatingly human, excruciatingly tender—excruciatingly good.

Andrew Berardini

Left: Art Production Fund co-founders Doreen Remen and Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Performers in Kate Gilmore's piece for the Public Art Fund benefit. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE ANNUAL NEW YORK MARATHON runs in November. In the nonprofit New York art world, it arrives in April—only instead of nylon shorts, runners wear designer frocks and patterned ties, while it’s the events themselves compete for the title of most imaginative fundraiser. During the week of April 11, the race was fierce, with galas on six consecutive nights.

On Monday, Art Production Fund cofounders Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen decked themselves out in Dolce & Gabbana gowns for their “Good and Plenty Benefit” at the palatial Park Avenue Armory. Just inside the door, APF director Casey Fremont (also in D&G) directed guests past performer Eloise Fornieles, who stood atop a ladder clad only in makeup and antlers. Upstairs, Dana Schutz was sketching faces and Nate Lowman applying temporary tattoos, while Jeff Koons unveiled a plate he had designed for the APF and his Koons Family Institute for missing and exploited children.

The fabulosity meter only climbed from there, with nearly five hundred guests on their best behavior. Chief among the attractions was Clarissa Dalrymple, the perpetually underground, peripatetic curator who has given many a young art career a significant early boost. “She is a radiantly beautiful individual with the best eye in the city,” Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles said in her toast. “If you want a lot of people to come to your benefit,” whispered an observer, “just make Clarissa the guest of honor.” (And put 150 glam artists and collectors on your benefit committee.)

Left: Filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Amos Poe. Right: Jeff and Justine Koons.

Dalrymple was actually one of two honorees. The other was philanthropist John Dempsey, group president of the Estée Lauder Companies. Their pairing made two camps of the assembled, one corporate-casual, the other privileged-bohemian. The divide materialized in the seating arrangements for dinner. On one side of the soaring, ground-floor hallway were businessmen-collectors like Phil Aarons, lawyers (Michael Ward Stout), and art consultants (Mark Fletcher, Eileen Guggenheim). On the other sat artists, dealers, and more collectors, but mostly artists, so Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz, for example, could buddy up with Jane Holzer, or Elizabeth Peyton, Klara Lidén, and Nate Lowman could do the same with Adam McEwen, Hanna Lidén, and Dalrymple. Tables had caviar-Pop centerpieces and lipstick-smear napkins by Dan Colen—the APF’s latest addition to its Works on Whatever inventory. Everyone carefully folded and pocketed their napkins after dinner (though a fresh one was waiting in their pink goody bags, along with a letter of solidarity from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand).

Another Villareal—Leo—was a cochair on Tuesday night, when Virginia Lebermann and Fairfax Dorn brought their Texan buddies together with the New York herd for a Ballroom Marfa benefit auction and dinner at the old Dia building in Chelsea. The looping, magnetic-tape decor and Marfa newspaper table mats by FIFTY by US were quite fabu. This time, the performance person was Maria Jose Arjona, who lay on a horizontally suspended chair throughout the Casa Dragones tequila hour, while a bagpipe and amplified cello duo greeted arriving guests, including the octogenarian gossip columnist Liz Smith; filmmaker Rainer Judd; contributing artists Meredith Danluck, Louise Lawler, and Adam Helms; Chinati Foundation director Thomas Kellein; and The Nation publisher Hamilton Fish, scion of one of New York’s first families but also a part-time Marfa resident.

Smith hankered for a Mika Tajima painting in the silent auction but balked at the $1,000 minimum (also the price of a dinner ticket). “I just don’t have $1,000 on me,” she said, with disarming sincerity. The drama of the night came during the live auction, when Hauser & Wirth director Joel Yoss had to vie with an absent phone bidder over a painting by gallery artist Matthew Day Jackson, who was sitting at the same table beside Lawler. The winning bid, $88,500, went to the mystery collector, who turned out to be one Bert Kreuk of Sarasota, Florida. “Who?” Yoss wondered. “I’ve never met him,” said Ballroom curator Melissa McDonnell, still clutching the phone. Andrew Wyatt and Pontus Winnberg, of the band Miike Snow, brought a measure of postprandial cool to the proceedings, but the country-and-western CD in the gift bag was by Nina Katchadourian.

Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume. Right: Artists Klara Lidén and Elizabeth Peyton.

Goody bags are beneath the high-minded Bard Center for Curatorial Studies. The institute went for the majesty of Capitale, a failed bank on the Bowery, to stage its fundraiser on Wednesday, also the evening of its annual Award for Curatorial Excellence. And curators were everywhere! Look left or right and in a single glance you could spot Massimiliano Gioni, Beatrix Ruf, Scott Rothkopf, Carter Foster, Matthew Higgs, and Molly Nesbit; or in another direction, Kathy Halbreich, David Ross, Debra Singer, Thelma Golden, Richard Armstrong, Philippe Vergne, and Lisa Phillips.

Nearly lost in this sea of scholarship were prominent collectors like CCS Bard benefactor Marieluise Hessel, Marty and Rebecca Eisenberg, and Maja Hoffmann. Awardees Hans Ulrich Obrist and Helen Molesworth distinguished themselves in blessedly brief speeches, after introductions by Bard CCS director Tom Eccles and artist Josiah McElheny. “It is said that Hans Ulrich never sleeps,” Eccles noted, to knowing titters. Obrist, who credited Harald Szeemann as his curatorial godfather, also gave a nod to Marcia Tucker and Walter Hopps. “Curating,” he said, “is to be a catalyst”—the most succinct definition of the job I’ve heard.

“Helen knows how to hang a show,” McElheny said of Molesworth, chief curator at Boston’s ICA, who also knows how to give credit where due. In her turn at the mic, she acknowledged her marriage to curator Susan Dackerman and characterized her own work as “a radical encounter with another—it’s all about love, really.” She spread it too, by thanking a sisterhood of artists who have made a difference to her career. They included Amy Sillman, Cathy Opie, Klara Lidén, Catherine Lord, and Eva Hesse, but also Paul Chan. Too fab.

Left: Bard CCS director Tom Eccles, Jerry Gorovoy, and collector Maja Hoffmann. Right: Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden with artist Glenn Ligon.

But it was Bard College president Leon Botstein who sounded the most inspirational, and political, note of the evening. For institutions that reside in a country whose Congress often has it in for artists, he said, Hessel’s kind of philanthropy is critical. “What’s missing,” he added, “is a sense of civic duty. When there’s a mistrust of government, an institution has to play a larger role.” He then called for more outrage against the tyranny that has put Ai Weiwei in a Chinese prison. “We have this dinner,” Botstein concluded. “But let us be mindful that what we do is at risk.”

Also in danger, though far more comically, were those sitting near the stage at “The Sculpture Factory,” the Public Art Fund benefit on Thursday night, as Kate Gilmore’s sledgehammer-wielding girls sent hunks of plaster flying into the vast Skylight SoHo event space (formerly the Ace Gallery). This annual soiree, held in a bowling alley in years past, now had the look of an upscale romper room. Pencils, crayons, stencils, rolls of colored masking tape, scissors, packets of Sculpy, and other arts-and-crafts materials brought together by designer Aaron Wexler filled shiny new paint cans of all sizes at the center of every table. “It might be a good idea to take a vow of silence with this,” said artist Shoja Azari, brandishing the tape.

But quiet was not on the agenda (except in the silent auction). DIY fun was. Performance artist Ryan McNamara assisted patron portraits in a makeshift photography studio, while artist Michele Abeles instantly inserted the images into projected landscapes. And as PAF director Nicholas Baume pointed out, Sol LeWitt returned from the beyond to offer collectors like Peter and Jill Kraus, the Eisenbergs, and Perry Rubenstein and Sara Fitzmaurice (all cochairs) a chance to make Wall Drawing #40: 500 lines.

Left: Actor Wallace Shawn. Right: Archeologist Iris Love and columnist Liz Smith.

After dinner, guests could brush their cupcake desserts with a choice of bright frostings, but many, particularly those with young children, lunged instead for the Sculpy bounty on the tables. “Sculpy’s expensive!” remarked Gavin Brown, squirreling away a share. Who needs goody bags, anyway?

Friday night, it was back to Capitale, where Bomb magazine held its thirtieth-anniversary benefit. For once, someone remembered to invite practitioners of the literary arts as well as the visual. Novelist Francine Prose was an honoree, along with former Art in America editor Betsy Baker, artist Marina Abramović, curator Alanna Heiss, and Guggenheim Foundation director Richard Armstrong. Playwright and actor Wallace Shawn showed up, as did novelist Michael Cunningham and Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci, who accompanied Abramović. “This has been our most successful benefit yet,” Bomb founder and editor Betsy Sussler kvelled, though the silent auction of fifty artworks had only just begun.

Across town in Chelsea, meanwhile, the Kitchen carried on with its fortieth anniversary shows. To commemorate “Aluminum Music,” a fundraiser from 1981, it brought percussionist Z’ev to the stage, followed by post-punk band the Bush Tetras, who played old favorites like “Too Many Creeps.” With guitarist Pat Place doing a blistering turn on “Ocean,” a song of more recent vintage, it all felt very downtown, especially with onetime Mudd Club doorman Richard Boch and filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Amos Poe in the audience.

Left: Ballroom Marfa director Fairfax Dorn. Right: Artist Amy Sillman, curator Helen Molesworth, and artist Josiah McElheny.

By Saturday night, I wasn’t sure I had another benefit in me. But a woman’s work is never done, at least not when ArtTable, the nationwide association of women art professionals, is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary at the Museum of Modern Art.

MoMA trustees Agnes Gund and Patricia Phelps de Cisneros were the opening act for a program in the Titus Theater that honored thirty groundbreakers in the group—leading educators, museum directors, curators, artists, and agitators, including the Guerrilla Girls; critic Roberta Smith; Art21 director Susan Sollins; artists Faith Ringgold and Miriam Schapiro; dealer Marian Goodman; and Lila Harnett, the journalist who founded the organization.

A short film outlining their considerable accomplishments was packed with juicy sound bites, like Creative Capital founder Ruby Lerner’s charge to “do the things that scare you.” ArtTable president Lowery Stokes Sims, who characterized the esteemed thirty as “women who have had a catalytic effect on the art world,” handed out awards—plaques by Jenny Holzer—as well as a text drawing by Yoko Ono for each honoree’s choice of “one to watch.” It said: “We are all small pebbles. Together we can change the world.”

If only women ruled it for more than a single night.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Collector Jane Holzer. Right: Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles with curator Clarissa Dalrymple.

Class Act

New York

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, T.1912, 2011. Performance views, Guggenheim Museum, New York, April 14, 2011. (Photos: Enid Alvarez)

LAST THURSDAY was the ninety-ninth anniversary of the crash of the Titanic. How did you observe it? At the Guggenheim, to commemorate the disaster, artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster staged T.1912, billed in detail as “a site-specific staged audience experience in the museum’s rotunda. Gavin Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic will be at the core of the installation, performed by The Wordless Music Orchestra. Boarding closes at 8:40 PM and 10:40 PM.” The wreck-fest nicely links to “The Great Upheaval,” a current exhibition featuring the Titanic-era tableaux of Der Blaue Reiter.

I attended the “First Class Dinner and Boarding,” a “Titanic-inspired three-course dinner” in the Guggenheim’s “award-winning restaurant, The Wright,” where Ben Whine graciously greeted me at the door.

“Are you the maître d’? Captain of the ship?”

“I’m the director of development,” he replied affably and glided me toward the bar, where I felt conspicuous not knowing anyone. The swanky, cliquey-feeling room was filled with mostly ladies, very Upper East Side–looking and “done.”

One of them picked up on my aura of insecurity:

“You’re going to have a great time!” predicted my new psychic friend. “You look great! I love your shoes,” my rescuer enthused. “A couple of girlfriends and I decided, ‘Why not do this?’ ” She nodded toward another blonde not-smiling at the bar: “It’ll be fun.” Grateful, I shifted into mingle cruise control.

A couple approached me. From Connecticut, talking up the Greenwich Art Fair. They said they’d been in publishing.

“I’m from Artforum,” I divulged.

“Hard to read,” declared the chap.

“Well, I try not to be too boring.”

“I like the ads. Journalism doesn’t pay very much,” he informed me. “But you get fringe benefits like this.” He gestured at the room filled with art appreciators about to eat their “First Class Dinner.”

A friend said later: “It’s like the first thing he thought of was: ‘How much money do you make doing that?’ Basically rich-people dick-measuring.”

Dinner was lovely. I was seated near a Parisian art book publisher who scoped the sleek white moderne dining room of the Wright, a curvy, compact, yachtlike space: “A lot of ladies. Who are they?” He pointed at me, teasing, “Hipsters!”

“They’re rich people.” It was safe to assume, at $350 per person. (The invite said, “$233 is tax-deductible.”)

“Bohemians!” he pressed on.

Well, it costs a lot to be a bohemian these days.

“Will you be in Venice?” I was asked several times. “Are you going to Basel?”

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, T.1912, 2011. Performance views, Guggenheim Museum, New York, April 14, 2011. (Photos: Enid Alvarez)

After the grub, it was time to “board”: “What will the audience-participation be?” I doubted it would involve any liquid splashing around the Kandinskys. 303 Gallery’s Lisa Spellman, there to “support Dominique,” was a trove of Titanic trivia. A reporter from the Daily News grilled her, taking copious notes. Spellman seemed very tuned in to the disaster’s resonance for us today: “the inequality” represented by the third-class passengers who mostly perished because they were architecturally segregated from the lifeboats. With crummy access to the scarce lifelines, they hardly had a chance.

We were escorted to the elevators and released at “The First Class Deck” at the pinnacle of the Gugg, where a private bar continued the special treatment. Down in the rotunda, “a ghost orchestra” was dressed all in white. “Lower-class” ticket holders lined the galleys below. In the First Class bubble, we hadn’t been aware of any other guests. The dimly lit space, now rimmed with “passengers,” was the Titanic where “the band played on” as it did, supposedly, during the famous disaster. The music was haunting and stately.

About midway through, people were quietly “evacuated” from the lower decks of the “ship.” Some streamed up to “First Class.” Some massed down at the base of the rotunda, like a dark swarm of Jonahs against the white whale–like void of the museum. The elegiac music played on as the audience scattered, everyone inconvenienced except First Class, in an effective and not-at-all-messy evocation of the wreck. From my perch, I thought of all the people who perished randomly and the class differentiation that stacked the deck against the low-budget set. It was an effective memorial to the “great upheaval” of the shipwreck. And an apt metaphor for society then and now.

I survived the evening. Yet another reminder it’s better to go first class.

Rhonda Lieberman

Twilight Zona

Mexico City

Left: Dealer Monica Manzutto. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco) Right: Artists Anri Sala, Monica Sosnowska, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Gabriel Orozco, and Jimmie Durham. (Photo: Euridice Arratia)

“THE WORLD’S GOTTEN SMALLER,” a dealer tells us in the car to Polanco from Mexico City International Airport. “Everywhere is important. You can’t overlook anyplace. No matter how provincial.”

“Excuse me,” a writer pipes up. “Mexico City is not provincial. Los Angeles is provincial.”

“What’s wrong with provincial?” asks a second dealer from the backseat.

“It’s what we moved to New York to get away from…”

If there ever were a center it lost its hold years ago. Many—more than one might expect—made the time to parachute into Mexico City the Tuesday before last from New York, Berlin, Milan, London, Tokyo—wherever—in search of… who knows? Money? A tan? The ostensible reason for all the traffic was Zona Maco, a respectable, mid-sized art fair that briefly transcended the old-fashioned point-of-purchase model to become pure, nearly dematerialized event. Art fair as occasion. Art fair as vacation. Art fair as vocation.

Left: Artist Gabriel de la Mora. Right: Artist Raphael Montañez Ortíz (on computer) with Labor owner Pamela Echeverria. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

That night there were gallery receptions around the Roma district, “Mexico’s Williamsburg,” someone pronounced. Julieta Aranda and Gabriel de la Mora at OMR; a revelatory show by artist Raphael Montañez Ortíz at Labor; a strong Damián Ortega exhibition at kurimanzutto’s flawless space. “I’m calling my architect right now,” a cheerful Perry Rubenstein announced as he walked in, reminding us of the new gallery he’s planning to open in LA this fall.

At Proyectos Monclova there were two shows: “What Happened to the Other Dollar?” curated by San Franciscans Chris Fitzpatrick and Post Brothers, and a solo show by Christian Jankowski based on an audition he held at the Vatican for an actor to play Jesus. The new Son of Man was floating around upstairs, making liturgical gestures, drinking beer, and chatting up ladies, who swooned over his piercing blue eyes and hip, easy-breathing duds. “It’s like Pontius Pilate meets America’s Next Top Model,” crowed a proud Jankowski.

Ersatz Jesus was also mingling at the Covodonga later that evening, a cantina described to me by a recent New York transplant as “like Max’s Kansas City, DF style. Kinda.” We were warned that the bathrooms “get messy.” Well, so did the dance floor. Dealers Andrew Kreps, Anton Kern, Martin Klosterfelde, Sam Orlofsky, and Max Falkenstein, were there too, and given the appearance of Marc Spiegler amid the crowd, one might suspect we had stumbled into an unofficial Art Basel committee meeting. We left before everyone else did.

Left: Dealer Martin Klosterfelde (right). Right: The crowd at the Jumex party. (Photo: Slater Bradley)

The next afternoon was the opening of the fair at the Centro Banamex, an enormous, airport-like complex (365,000 square feet of exhibition space) that also includes a racetrack, a theme park, and what looked to be a large swimming hole. We walked past the car-parts convention in the neighboring hall, through the fair’s main doors, and beyond the MTV-sponsored greeter stand. Inside, the usual smart selection of galleries (Lisson, Hauser & Wirth, Massimo De Carlo, Honor Fraser, Galeria Vermelho of São Paulo, Bogota’s Casas Riegner) brought their usual salable wares. But it seemed that a significant number of dealers in town weren’t participating. “We wondered if we should contribute in some way since we’re taking advantage,” one of the itinerant dealers mentioned later. “But it’s a question of intelligence, isn’t it?”

“You should bomb the fair!” had been a sour DF-based artist’s advice before I left for Mexico. I wasn’t sure what that would accomplish, even for antagonists to the profit motive. These days the operative condition isn’t space, but scheduling. Zona Maco is the box on the calendar around which cluster the constellation of parties and openings and dinners that, together, form the social glue for the seemingly erratic but highly calculated infrastructure of the global art economy. “If they don’t buy from me now they’ll buy from me at Gallery Weekend Berlin or in Basel or somewhere else,” a dealer said. “Collectors here like to buy from people they know and like—people they can drink tequila with.”

Left: Artist Miguel Calderón. Right: Gaga Fine Arts owner Fernando Mesta.

The following afternoon, after a night of dancing with the Almodóvar-esque trannie Zemmoa at the Colección Jumex, we arrived at Contramar, a seafood restaurant in Roma next to the self-consciously winsome gallery Gaga Fine Arts. Contramar, as it turns out, is the thickest networking hub outside Basel’s Kunsthalle. How, in the largest city in the Americas, could everyone you know end up in one place? “Why is the whole art world here?” I asked Spiegler. “And what are you doing here?” “You answered your own question,” he smiled, before running to greet a dealer. In a back corner sat Monica Manzutto with Gabriel Orozco and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann floated by another table hosting art adviser Patricia Marshall. The frontiersmen of art and capital looked coifed and relaxed.

“Who needs a fair when you have Contramar and an iPad?” curator Benjamin Godsill asked. We’re all post-booth.

On Friday, after another dip in the deep end at Contramar, we made our way to the “dinner” (read: crudités and cocktails) celebrating the inauguration of the Museo Soumaya, the new vanity museum built by Carlos Slim, aka the richest man in the world. Plopped across from a Costco in Polanco, the Soumaya has been taking a bit of a bruising in the press (something, I gathered, about the flashy building, like a sequined nuclear power plant, designed by Slim’s son-in-law, Fernando Romero, and the collection of Dalí sculptures haphazardly arranged, horror vacui–style, on the top floor…). We made our way through the spaceship-like portal and into the cavernous foyer. Isaac Julien rested on the grand marble stairwell, near a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Hundreds of men in suits and women in shimmery dresses grabbed drinks and hovered around Rodin’s Thinker, the incongruous mascot for the evening.

Left: Jesus. Right: Inés López-Quesada, architect Fernando Romero, and Silvia Ortiz.

Then, literally, Gong! and a voice announcing over the loudspeakers that Michael Nyman was to play excerpts from his best-selling score for The Piano. And so he did, pleasantly enough. Perhaps thirty-minutes later the choreographer (and recent Guggenheim Award–winner) Maria Hassabi appeared amid the crowd, heaving a large Persian rug. She cleared some space and rolled it out and began holding strange sculptural positions both under and atop the carpet. Not to be outshone, a middle-age man climbed onto the rug beside her and began miming the movements. “Who is that jerk?” whispered my neighbor. (Miguel Soler-Roig Juncadella, president of Ars Fundum, it turned out.) Afterward, Hassabi was more generous. “That’s amazing! It’s what every artist dreams of. That would never happen in a theater.”

And then we were in another caravan rolling toward the afterparty at Romero’s studio. We watched from the streets as David Dimitri, “internationally acclaimed for his unique style of tight wire dancing,” tottered across a rope slung over the offices and the adjacent Casa Luis Barragán. Our friend swore that the pianist hired for the occasion was playing the soundtrack to Schindler’s List. Nyman claimed he’d never heard it, even though (because?) it won an Academy Award the same year he did The Piano. Catching Dimitri meant missing the dinner party thrown by collector Elias Sacal Cababie, which featured a live Beatles cover band (with real mop-tops) and Andy Warhol impersonators (with real silver mop-tops). Anyway, by then sense had canted precipitously toward nonsense, and our little group took off for tacos.

David Velasco

Left: Musician Michael Nyman. Right: Artist Isaac Julien.

Salt Shaker


Left: Curator Vasif Kortun with archivist and librarian Sezin Romi of Salt. Right: November Paynter of Salt with writer and curator Shumon Basar. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)

ON ANY GIVEN DAY, as many as three million people promenade along Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi, ping-ponging across a two-mile pedestrian stretch that has become a generically global, thoroughly gentrified, open-air shopping mall. But in between Nike and Camper and Benetton and the obnoxiously oversize Sephora and the umpteenth Starbucks, Istiklal reveals some of the weirdest dimensions of Istanbul’s contemporary art scene.

The major players are banks: Garanti, Akbank, and Yapi Kredi, among others. Behind those banks are wealthy industrial families, which inevitably makes any discussion of the Istanbuli art elite sound like a hushed conversation about the Italian Mafia’s five families in New York. Instead of maximizing the retail potential of Istiklal, those banks and their families are opening galleries, museums, foundations, and research centers in key spots along the main drag.

Last weekend, the art scene was out in full force on Istiklal for the inauguration of Salt Beyoğlu and the opening of “Tactics of Invisibility” at Arter. A new, multidisciplinary institution housed in the radically restored building that once hosted the Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Salt Beyoğlu occupies six floors and more than ten thousand square feet of exhibition space, which are currently taken up by “Laboratory,” a snooze of a show highlighting the winners of this year’s Ars Viva Prize, and “I Am Not a Studio Artist,” a gorgeously installed and emotionally fine-tuned retrospective for Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin, who died, age fifty, in 2007.

Left: Writer H. G. Masters with curator Emre Baykal of Arter. Right: Mari Spirito of 303 Gallery with Dan Byers, cocurator of the next Carnegie International.

“It doesn’t look like Platform,” said a young artist, eyes imploring, very Dorothy-not-in-Kansas-anymore as she stepped into the ground-floor “forum,” populated at that particular moment by more catering staff than guests. “It looks like any other Istiklal jeans shop; it looks like another Mavi boutique,” quipped a tough-minded curator (and former Platform staffer), aghast at the exposed black ceiling and postindustrial vibe. (As befits an art institution owned by a bank, there’s a Garanti cash machine tucked into a back corner. No one said anything about that. They just laughed.)

Platform wound down its activities at the end of last year, merged with Garanti Galeri and the Ottoman Bank Archives, and subjected itself to an institutional revamp as impressive as the restoration of the building, the first of two enormous spaces constituting the new initiative. The second building, Salt Galata, is an architectural jewel, the former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, which is scheduled to open in September to coincide—or compete with—the next Istanbul Biennial.

Vasif Kortun, Platform’s founder and the director of research and programming at Salt, is an unabashed power broker on the Istanbul scene. But perhaps as an antidote to the city’s intense artistic factionalism, Kortun has shifted away from exhibition making and conceived of Salt as a think tank in action, a collaborative space for testing out new forms of debate and exchange.

The opening was a strangely perforated schedule of previews and cocktails and afterparties—all in the same space—which made it possible to ditch Salt for Arter’s opening, featuring a performance by Nevin Aladağ, and another afterparty, all while staying close and returning often.

Left: Sylvia Kouvali of Rodeo and writer Lara Fresko. Right: Artist and filmmaker William E. Jones.

“Tactics of Invisibility,” curated by Emre Baykal and Daniela Zyman, is Arter’s third exhibition to date. The space, which is run by the Vehbi Koç Foundation, opened a year ago on Istiklal. Coproduced by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, the show also technically opened a year ago, but in Vienna, before traveling to Berlin and now Istanbul.

“We were supposed to show Turkish artists in Europe,” said Baykal, Arter’s curator and director of exhibitions. “But there’s always this question of national representation. Since the 1990s, this idea has consumed itself and reached a dead end. We decided to follow another line. When you show Turkish artists beyond the country’s borders, you make something visible. But maybe it’s unfair to limit artworks to those strategies of visibility. Each of the pieces in this show has something around strategies of invisibility as well. It’s a different reading, but it’s not art-historical. There is a representation, but we don’t focus on national representation.”

The writer H. G. Masters had seen the show in Berlin, so I dragged him around from room to room and up and down the steep marble staircase (Arter, like Salt, lives in a heritage building) to explain what had changed. We ran into an international art-world character who regaled us with tales of New York in the ’80s, opening a gallery, and showing Basquiat “when no one bought a thing.”

Glancing past a six-screen video installation by Kutluğ Ataman, he said, “This is so Francesca. You know I sold her her first piece? By the way, have you seen her, have you seen Francesca?”

I am an oblivious fool: “Francesca who?”

“Thyssen,” he purred. “Or Hapsburg. I never know which.”

“No, not yet,” Masters said politely. The guy reached for his phone, as universal a gesture as signing the air for a check.

Left: Mirko de Lisi of Rodeo. Right: Artist Cevdet Erek with his contribution to the facade of Arter.

Back at Salt with Shumon Basar—we writers cling together like rats on a life raft—everything was the same as we’d left it, so we decided to give Istiklal a rest. After all, it isn’t the only game in town. The following night was the opening of Nilbar Güreş’s show at Rampa, a gallery on another, more upscale but less auspicious consumer causeway. On Sunday, the Istanbul Biennial hosted a panel discussion in a stately palace for the artist William E. Jones and Patrick Watkins, son of the filmmaker Peter Watkins, who worked on his father’s magisterial La Commune.

Before saying goodbye to Istanbul, I ducked out of the Salt-Arter-Rampa racket (the three spaces had coordinated their press offensive) to visit Rodeo Gallery, the Depo cultural center, and Istanbul Modern. Then I wound my way back to Bas, a project space run by the artist Banu Cennetoğlu on a side street off of Istiklal.

“With Arter and Salt there’s this idea of a comfortable constellation,” she said. “But it’s become so concentrated that it’s like a black hole. All the competing intentions risk canceling each other out. Istiklal is a shopping mall. But politically, it’s also where all the demonstrations happen—capitalist, socialist, anarchist—so what does the street really communicate?” Cennetoğlu’s space is completely independent, without a bank or family backing. But with rents rising and a landlord eager to cash in, she’s leaving the neighborhood at the end of this month for a new space down the hill in Karaköy. “I’m saturated with this street,” she said. “I feel it’s done.”

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Left: Özkan Cangüven of Rampa with artist Cengiz Cekil. Right: Artist Banu Cennetoğlu at Bas.

Sound Mind and Body

New York

Left: The crowd at Public Assembly in Williamsburg. Right: Sound artist Alan Howarth. (All photos: Jude Broughan)

“IF YOU’RE FROM NEW YORK, you’ll know this one.” As the image of an eye patch–sporting Kurt Russell flashed across twin screens behind the stage at West Village destination Le Poisson Rouge, the speaker struck up a portentous synth line and the audience burst into nostalgic applause. But the portly, middle-aged guy behind the keyboard wasn’t just playing to the crowd; the tense theme from 1981 cult actioner Escape from New York is one of his own compositions. Alan Howarth, performing here last Friday evening under the banner of the Unsound Festival New York, is something of an icon to fans of electronic movie sound tracks and effects: His résumé is peppered with Hollywood titles from Poltergeist to Raiders of the Lost Ark, John Carpenter projects like Escape and Halloween featuring prominently among them.

“Most of this music’s just been sitting around for thirty years,” Howarth admitted cheerfully, reveling in the attention it was now receiving and clearly overjoyed to find himself out of the studio and in front of some appreciative listeners. Harald Grosskopf, drummer for 1970s German space-rockers Ash Ra Tempel and author of 1979’s Synthesist album (described by the organizers as “the nexus of Krautrock, Kosmische, and New Age”—and who am I to argue?), was in similarly high sprits. Taking the stage after Howarth, he got rather more of a workout, bobbing and weaving behind his stand-up kit while adopting a range of orgasmic/tortured facial expressions. “This screen is to monitor my blood pressure,” he quipped, pointing to one of several nearby laptops. “It’s nothing to do with the music.”

After an hour or so of meandering but effortlessly enjoyable stuff, Grosskopf and friends made way for Emeralds, a young trio from Cleveland whose synth-heavy instrumental jams owe much to their senior colleagues’ pioneering work. Taking a noisier tack than their precursors and stirring a dose of youthful energy into the mix, the band succeeded in updating their chosen form and, perhaps more attuned to the expectations of a modern audience, laid off the between-song banter. A final set saw the group team up with Howarth to unveil a new collaborative piece, purportedly based on the latter’s visit to the Great Pyramid of Giza. “I rented it out for two hours,” he boasted. “Cost me $8,000.” Apparently derived from frequencies detected in the King’s Chamber, the project promised much. “I warn you guys,” quoth Howarth, “this music’s gonna be pretty powerful.” But, as is so often the case with supergroups, the result was less than the sum of its storied parts.

Left: Emeralds. Right: Void ov Voices at Abrons Arts Center.

Over at Williamsburg’s Public Assembly, Bass Mutations, Unsound’s concession to the clubbing contingent, was still gathering pace. My companion and I arrived in time to catch the end of a crisp set by Lithuania’s Eleven Tigers in the front space, and the conclusion of a dubbier performance by Badawi in the dark, heaving back room. Next up were Manchester’s Lone and spirited Brooklynites Sepalcure, the locals blessed with an unflagging energy that had us wondering whether the duo’s music was really their only fuel. Still, the continued popularity of the form gathered here under the umbrella of “bass music” (Simon Reynolds once dubbed it “the hardcore continuum”) was in no doubt; 2011’s event was at least as packed as 2010’s.

For Saturday afternoon, something more sedate—a discussion between writer Andy Battaglia and British “dark ambient” musician Lustmord (aka Brian Williams). The latter was candid about his limitations (“I have no musical ability, skill, or education”) and readily discussed his day job as a sound designer on Hollywood movies. (“When they want weird shit, they call me. The sound of babies crying in hell? That took about twenty minutes.”) He provided samples of these projects, demonstrating the difference between the sound of a real anvil (a gentle clink) and a director’s ideal of the same (a thunderous, echoing clang). He also played an extract from his first-ever recording, an industrial stomp made using “a couple of bricks and a hammer,” and bemoaned a disconnect between his own aims and the perceptions of his audience. “I just want to create a place. You people always choose to go somewhere dark. I don’t specialize in darkness.”

The same claim could hardly have been made by Void ov Voices, who took the stage at the Abrons Arts Center on Sunday afternoon dressed in a black, hooded robe and began a deep-throated vocalization somewhere between a chant and a roar. “Summer Fun” it wasn’t. Bellowing and gesticulating from behind a table decked out, altarlike, with a row of flickering candles, this performer succeeded unequivocally in claiming something back for the godless.

Michael Wilson

No Hard Failings

New York

Left: Ben Williams and Victoria Vazquez of Elevator Repair Service. Right: Poet Eileen Myles. (Photos: Brett W. Messenger)

WHEN BOB DYLAN wrote “There’s no success like failure” in 1965, little did he know that his Beat generation mentors (the original slackers) would be thoroughly out-slothed by subsequent cohorts, primarily my own (Generation X), to the point where a bunch of talented youth from Triple Canopy can hang an event on failure, be successful, and look good, if appropriately maudit, while doing so. Indeed, these busy Y-sters have distilled and perfected the deception of cloaking themselves in the distressed sartorial aesthetic of their predecessors while being, in truth, fiendishly ambitious and competent. Did I mention the venue was that storied citadel of nonstarters, MoMA PS1?

Keyed to the release of the “Failure Issue” of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, a thirty-year-old journal dedicated to publishing undercelebrated avant-gardists, last Saturday’s ostensibly grim trawl through the sewers of literary loserdom turned out to be as full of good vibes and mutual support as a Miranda July reading: an SRO crowd of hipsterish twenty- and thirtysomethings happily watching a bunch of hipsterish twenty- and thirtysomethings read and perform about being unsuccessful. Really, it was enough to give failure a bad name, or at least to relegate it to the status of an heirloom—something that happened frequently, and quite spectacularly, in bygone eras, but is nothing but a charming curio today. At times, I wanted to scream at the stage a line R. Crumb wrote in a letter to a friend: “Your vigor for life appalls me!”

The issue’s guest editor, novelist Joshua Cohen, ascended the makeshift stage and said, “Welcome to this wildly successful afternoon of failure.” (See?) He read a prepared introduction that was a good deal longer than the few sentences he had scribbled in the issue itself. He discussed the centuries-long transformation of literary characters from heroes to antiheroes and noted that self-publishing had erased the old meaning of literary failure. “Now all that’s left is boredom, banality, and herpes.”

Cohen was followed by that unfairly marginalized pariah of the literary world, n+1 editor and novelist Keith Gessen. Reading an excerpt of the essay he contributed to the issue, Gessen mused about the perils of the “loser wins” mentality in artistic careers (think van Gogh, Kafka, Melville), otherwise known as the politics of the sellout. It was a gracious piece that liberally invoked one of the touchstones of the entire event, the recently dead antinovelist David Markson, whose utter refusal to conform to narrative or formal expectations and constitutional inability to hustle made him a failure in the old, I’m-not-fucking-around sense of the word.

Triple Canopy deputy editor Sam Frank took the stage and started reading about having a breakdown at Harvard in 1964. I marveled at his longevity; he looked no older than thirty-two. It slowly became clear that he was reading excerpts from his father’s diary or correspondence. Sam’s late father is the writer Sheldon Frank, and Frank fils’s piece in the issue blends his father’s ruminations on life and literature with his own. Sheldon had a strange antimentor relationship with Saul Bellow—an imperious, insecure asshole, apparently—which provided some of the more amusing moments in Sam’s fuguelike minimemoir.

Next up was poet and novelist Eileen Myles, who, having been around and of age during the Lower East Side’s post-punk ferment, seemed more qualified to talk about actual squalor than the rest of these bright young things. “So little female failure today; glad to take part,” she quipped, “but maybe it’s redundant—women and failure. What would a female on a cross mean?” Myles read from her failed novel that failed to get a grant, despite being written in the form of a grant application. Some funny, catty bits about a Semiotext(e) tour with Kathy Acker, Lynne Tillman, Richard Hell, Chris Kraus, and others probably flew over the heads of anyone younger than me, though I finally felt part of the crowd.

Novelist-poet-critic-Berlin-bad-boy Travis Jeppesen followed. Slim, intense, and gripping the sides of his manuscript as if it were the last rung of a rope ladder hovering over the Grand Canyon, Jeppesen promised a “hermeneutered” version of his contribution to the issue. I believe he called himself a “smelly homosexual.” In his discursive yet manifesto-like piece on “badness” in art, literature, and life, Jeppesen argued against “clarity” in creative work and dismissed postmodernism’s denigration of originality. References to Joyce, Stein, Conceptualists, Language poets, and others were interrupted by an excerpt from a novel he recently published, a literally ejaculatory load of flarf that went something like “Watch my teen honey juicy split gargantuan cums cam squirt juicy hunks teen splits slut cam” for an entire paragraph. He cited Godard: “Culture is the law. Art is the exception.” Word.

By Internet video link, novelist Helen DeWitt read something incomprehensible from a sallow room in Berlin. Smoking frequently, she resembled Cindy Sherman and broke into German or clicking insect nonsense at times. It was hard to tell. Before intermission, a real loser took the stage to flog his “one-page chapbooks,” which he offered to give to people for free as long as they returned them to him. After a break, the theater company Elevator Repair Service did a hectic computer- and smartphone-assisted performance of algorithmic cut-ups of The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and The Sound and the Fury. More interesting on paper than in practice, the piece made much of the punctuative possibilities of “Dilsey said.”

Actor Derek Lucci started walking through the crowd, ranting about entropy. He was performing excerpts from William Gaddis’s last novel, Agapé Agape, which, as an extended Bernhardian monologue of complaint about technology and modern life, works well as a one-man show. Finally, U.S. Girls (Megan Remy), a woman who clearly spends a lot of time in her apartment with the shades drawn, wired together a bunch of drum machines, effects pedals, a mixer, and a Walkman, and unleashed a set of seriously damaged tracks that evoked particularly blunted Lee “Scratch” Perry remixes of Cambodian Rocks covers of Western pop tunes. Singing in a shrill, heavily treated voice, constantly fiddling with knobs, rarely acknowledging the audience, Remy was the closest to the stated premise of the event, partially clearing the room before she was through.

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco . . . fine. But this ain’t no failure either. The gold standard of literary failure is lack of response—I mean crickets-audible-from-inside-the-empty-theater lack of response. This event, while diverting, failed only at that. “Failure’s no success at all,” as Bob completed the couplet. If this were a college symposium, I’d give it a High Pass.

Father Figure

New York

Artist Rob Pruitt. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)

SO OFTEN WHEN I STROLL around Union Square, I marvel that I am walking in the steps of the Factory, that it was from here that Andy Warhol changed artmaking forever with the radical notion that to reproduce is to produce and vice versa. This was the fertile void where Andy and his surrogates manufactured “superstars”: where they taped, snapped, hustled, social-climbed, starfucked, painted, “brought home the bacon,” and ordered from Brownie’s (the health food store frequently mentioned in the Andy archive). How fitting to have a monument right here. And how hilarious and slyly apt to commemorate the Pop portraitist by riffing on the old-timey genre of the figurative statue.

On Wednesday night, Rob Pruitt’s The Andy Monument was unveiled, sponsored by the Public Art Fund. It will be up for six months on the northwest corner of Union Square.

When was the last time you even saw an artwork unveiled? It was a quaint way to launch this tribute to the most un-artsy of artists. Anticipation built as guests gathered before the life-size statue (modeled on the body of Cincinnati collector Andy Stillpass) draped in a Christoesque tarp, right in front of Petco, which is on the ground floor of one of the Factory locations. People from Interview, from Gavin Brown and from the Public Art Fund, artist friends, the press, and whoever.

“The superstars just came out; they weren’t even invited,” said Nicholas Baume of the Public Art Fund. Ultra Violet, Taylor Mead, and Robert Heide, Warhol’s playwright, in a polo shirt with a large Warhol banana. Chloë Sevigny, he said, “was detained in Mexico.”

Left: Collector Andy Stillpass and artist Elizabeth Peyton. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)

A bunch of arms extended from the crowd holding cameras, “like a rock concert,” enthused a friend.

“I hope you like it for more than fifteen minutes.” Pruitt’s speech at the undraping was brief.

Unveiled, Andy’s chrome surface glittered like a disco ball from the barrage of flashes. The effigy, like a saint, was recognizable by his accessories: fright wig, “welfare glasses,” Polaroid camera around his neck, and the shopping bag filled with Interviews and the daily purchases he accumulated as he shopped his way to work. (He was a hoarder.) The famous Pop-ster stared back at us vacantly, his reflective hide glimmering and animated by the snaps as if vivified by being photographed, but not quite. He was as undead and as fabulous and as inscrutable as ever.

“Does this make you feel a little nostalgic?” I asked Interview veteran Glenn O’Brien.

“A little.”

I noticed several others scribbling away on notepads: Calvin Tomkins; Jerry Saltz; Sarah Douglas, who asked: “What do you think Warhol would have thought of it?”

“That’s the question!” not-answered Saltz.

We watched the crowd snap away at Andy, and complained how when we’re covering something we always feel we have “nothing.”

It was very Warholian as we lingered at the pseudo-event, gawking, hobnobbing, and/or trying to get a piece out of it.

Left: Dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Ultra Violet, Taylor Mead, Robert Heide, and Rob Pruitt (counterclockwise from top left). (Photos: Irina Rozovksy)

“It’s an American monument,” someone offered.

“Give me your rich, your glamorous, your superficial,” riffed Glenn O’Brien, Emma Lazarus–style.

“This piece isn’t about me. It’s an homage to Andy,” Pruitt was careful to say.

And an effective homage it is. By the end of the unveiling there were already offerings of Campbell’s soup cans and one Brillo box at the base of the piece: a spontaneous shrine. A friend had passed by earlier that day, when Andy was exposed: “Andy would be happy to know that most people's impulse seemed to be to take a picture of themselves with it! Almost everyone smiled when they looked at it.”

There was a packed cocktail party at an architecture firm in the former Factory building. “It feels like an office Christmas party,” said Christopher Bollen of Interview. To extract yet another fifteen minutes, Ultra Violet was working the room: a teeny lady with gray curls, big red eyeglasses, and a handy pin that said ULTRA in rhinestones. Her friend, who’d worked at Cantor-Fitzgerald, gave me an impromptu pitch for her 9/11 memorial project. He pulled out a purple Vosges chocolate box containing a small model of her piece, in ultra violet (of course) with the roman numerals for IX/XI arranged on two levels à la Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE. I listened, taking in that one of Warhol’s superstars was trying to capitalize on the Pop-ularity of IX/XI. Oy. “We’re getting it copyrighted,” he assured me.

“Life is weird,” an artist nearby mused. “It’s sad. After all this”—she indicated the crowd packed with art-world go-getters— “you still get old.”

Then there was a glamorous dinner at Olives at the W hotel. It was really “up there.” Supermodel Stephanie Seymour was seated just behind me, between Peter Brant and Gavin Brown. But I was too busy gabbing to observe her.

Left: Artist Aaron Young and photographer Patrick McMullan. (Photo: Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan) Right: Ultra Violet. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)

My favorite moment by far was Anthony Haden-Guest snoozing, head tilted back, with his mouth wide open—dentist-wide—at a half-empty table, while his remaining tablemates chatted around him. The nightlife chronicler evoked a Goya figure, a gaping orifice in the swank chiaroscuro of Olives. Socialite shutterbug Patrick McMullan wasn’t too discreet to swoop in there and snap away. Refreshed by his nap, the bon vivant roused himself and table-hopped next to me, supported by the arm of his New York Observer editor (who announced, “I’m in it for the sorbet now.”). He mumbled so I really had to lean in and he was soon holding my arm, too.

“Do you know my little drawings?” He brightened and proceeded to sketch me on a napkin: a circle for a head with glasses and two lines of hair, captioned “ ‘It’s me!’ AH-G.”

(“That looks nothing like you!” a friend shrieked.)

I was impressed by the sketch, given the artist’s condition, and when I got home I was delighted to find another piece of AH-G artwork in my purse: a self-portrait he’d scribbled on the back of a card and signed. Andy would have appreciated the artifact.

Rhonda Lieberman