Anthony Haden-guest’s New York Diary

The young blonde woman was at an opening at Half, a gallery on Orchard. She was on a crutch and one foot was in a cast.

“Is that a Fashion Week thing?” I asked and leaned back, awaiting at least a smile.

“You’re the third person to have said that,” she snapped, and hobbled off.

Goodbye Fashion Week. Hello Art Week! I actually went to the “Brucennial” before I went to the Whitney Biennial which it lampoons. It is the creation of the Bruce High Quality Foundation, a collective of five artists, and which was presented this year at 350 West Broadway by Vito Schnabel, Julian Schnabel’s art impresario son. The press release claims that there are 420 artists in the show, at least according to the release, and they include David Salle, Donald Baechler and Francesco Clemente, who was there, as were various Schnabels and the director of the Whitney, Adam Weinberg. Doubtless the five Bruces were also present but whoever knew wasn’t telling.

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The Brucennial 2010

By comparison the Whitney Biennial was stripped-down, only 55 artists. I went the Sunday after the opening. Justine Koons was waiting outside the third floor with a baby. “They wouldn’t let in a stroller,” she said. Would the Tate Modern be so high-handed with a baby Hirst? There was good stuff, notably the piece by, yes, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, a video playing on the front window of a Cadillac hearse, and a Josephine Meckseper video. Both videos told sad tales of Waning America.

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Josephine Meckseper, still from ‘Mall of America’, 2009
video, 12:48 mins

But there was much as usual that looked as if it was made to be taught. And there was – also as usual – plenty of unintended humour in the wall labels. One, for instance, explained the proposal by the veteran Conceptualist, Michael Asher, to keep the museum continuously open to the public for a week. It ended “Note: The duration of this work has been shortened from the artist’s original proposal.” It cited “budgetary and human resources limitations” and ended: “As a result, this work has been shortened from seven days to three days.”

Harvard’s Stephen Prina, who happened to be passing, assured me that this was not a sly piece about the recession.

‘Patron’, a video by Marianne Vitale was striking. Posed against a black-and-white background rather like the famous shot of Patty Hearst in front of the SLA’s seven-headed cobra, a maenad-like Vitale, eviscerates such patrons as the Whitney’s very own. “Now patron, open your mouth,” she commands. “You, the shit with the eyebrows … ” She unleashes a demonic laugh – Hahahahaha! – and continues “You two shits in the corner!”

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Marianne Vitale, still from ‘Patron’, 2009
video, 8:36 mins

The video made its point and a still from it had been reproduced on the front page of the Arts & Leisure Supplement of the New York Times. I have known Vitale for some years and, yes, she is feisty. Not so long ago I was at Lucien’s on First when she embarked on a political harangue that so enraged a patron that he struck her in the face. The staff had him swiftly out of there. She had been waitressing to put bread on the table but her art career was beginning to happen and she had a strong show of sculpture at Ibid Projects in London last fall. So this Times plug must surely be quite a booster shot? I gave her a call. It went so.

AHG “What impact has the Times piece had?”

MV “Well, it’s well deserved?” Cheerful laugh. “The last thing I did in New York didn’t get a fucking word in the press.”

AHG “Do you have a gallery in New York?”

MV “No. I don’t! You wanna find me one?” That laugh.

AHG “Shouldn’t this be helpful?”

MV “I think it should be helpful.” Again that madcap laugh. “But you know I don’t have any very good fucking social skills.”

AHG “Have you had many calls?”

MV “There’ve been very few. A guy I know at the local bar called and said congratulations. I don’t think many people read the paper any more. Which is sad. I’ve been online. One woman wrote a pretty good thing on some obscure blog. I was on Korean TV I heard.”

She added in a follow-up email: ‘I got more phonecalls when I made it to page 6 after I was punched in the face.’

As I said, Vitale is feisty. She’ll get the right gallery, count on it. And one last Whitney note. Hanging on the top floor, not part of the Biennial, is Richard Prince’s ‘Spiritual America’, the artist’s appropriation of a naked photograph of a very young Brooke Shields. This is, of course, the picture that was seized from Tate Modern, and all catalogues impounded. Here no NYPD were in evidence.

* * *

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Leo Castelli

I last lunched with Leo Castelli at one of his favourite spots, Mezzogiorno on Spring. We were at a window table, as it happened, not at his regular table by the wall which was where the restaurant put up a brass plaque in 1999, the year he died. Devon Dikeou, the artist, who edits and publishes Zingmagazine, makes work that deals with the overlap between public and private space, and would often look to see who was at the Castelli table and wonder if they had noticed the plaque.

“About two years ago I got the courage to actually request to sit at ‘his table’,” she says. She took a snap, made a piece. It ended up as an installation at the Independent which was by several lengths the best of the piggyback fairs.

* * *

The VIP rooms in the twin Basels are always very swell. They act as both information exchanges and thermometers, orifices for taking the temperature. There were two VIP enclaves at the Armory, a big, usually crowded one, which differed from the rest of the fair only in being relaxingly art-free, and a smaller one set up by shiny-sheeted magazine. Neither resonated with entitlement, no banks were lavishing hospitality and if the concierge services, jewelers and developers who are all over the twin Basels were on the case, it was undercover.

I decided to check out the VIP spaces at the piggybacks. The one at Pulse was behind a chain-link fence in a former Bloomberg data storage unit and the coffeemaker hadn’t been fixed when I got there. Volta and the Independent seemed indifferent to the pressing needs of VIPs and when I asked to check my coat at Pool, which was in the Gershwin on Madison and 27th, a young woman said with a cool smile: “This is a limited services hotel.” New Yawk, New Yawk.

* * *

It was in New York that the stories of art and real estate first became inextricably entangled and this continues. The former Dia building on West 22nd – Josef Beuys’s rocks still line the street – has been housing the Independent, and a magnificent art-space it is, but it’s future is in doubt. I am told that the developer who owns it simply hasn’t made up his mind. Oddly, Dia is strongly rumoured to be moving back, but to the building opposite.

More real estate. One block up on West 23rd Street there’s a building alongside the Leo Koenig gallery which announces itself as The Tate Luxury Rental in the Art of Chelsea. I was naturally amused by this witty wordplay and glad to find that the Brit artworld can be as entrepreneurial as New York’s so emailed Helen Beeckmans at Tate Modern for further details. Her cool response: ‘The building in New York is not part of the Tate in any way.’

* * *

When there is a plethora of fairs and openings, you become aware of changes. One was a vastly diminished video art quotient. So sad! Right? Another was that the surge of word art seems to be increasing. At first I put this down to the waning of literary magazines and the poverty of outlets for verbal energy but I don’t think the influence of the stand-up culture should be underestimated. But that is just a different form of cultural melt.

Here are just a few examples, netted from a not always glittering shoal.

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. A Mel Bochner at a New York gallery, Two Palms.

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY. Charley Friedman at Volta.

ANOTHER PAINTING. Mark Flood at Zach Feuer.

TONIGHT I HACKED INTO THE COMPUTER OF THE CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY AND REPLACED EVERYWHERE THE WORD “REVOLUTION” WITH THE WORD “CHOCOLATE.” Markus Vater at the Dusseldorf gallery, Sies & Hoke.

HE SAYS WE NEED A NEW ENGINE by Jennifer Bartlett.

Also a red neon piece by Claire Fontaine outside the Independent read: PLEASE GOD MAKE TOMORROW BETTER. Within, a printed page on a wall read: THIS SENTENCE HAS PROBLEMS, a sentiment attributed to Martin Kippenberger.

Another remarkable change was the rarity of in-your-face sex. Hardly a vagina in view.

“Maybe it’s because nobody’s having sex?” suggested Cathy Owens, a conceptual artist who works with U2.

“Maybe it’s because everybody is,” suggested somebody else.

(Okay, dear reader, that somebody was me).

* * *

On March 7 I was at a public Queens Museum event, talking with the artist, O Zhang, and introducing her work and a movie that she has made. Hitomi Iwasaki, the curator who is organizing this, was born in Kyoto, Japan; O Zhang was born in Guangzhou, China; I am a Brit, who was born in Paris. I doubt if such a convergence would have happened twenty years ago but it is pretty typical of the new art world, certainly of its New York contingent.

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Installation from O Zhang’s ‘Cutting the Blaze to New Frontiers’ at Queens Museum

* * *

The Bruce High Quality Foundation – yes, them again – has another space around the corner from the Brucennial on Grand, called Recess. It had that increasingly familiar garage sale look and was being watched over by two women.

‘ZEFREY’S PROJECT’ is written in yellow chalk on a greenboard on the right-hand wall. Beneath are columns of text. One is headed ‘REASONS FOR ABANDONMENT’. The first reason was ‘TO DIFFICULT’ (sic, as they say). Reason number 4 was ‘NUDITY – NOT ACCEPTABLE’. Reason number 9 was ’60 SEC RESPONSE TIME NYPD’.

As I left, the gallerinas were pasting a large painted announcement on the window. It read:

“ZEFREY THROWELL

NAKED ON WALL STREET

900 AM March 12″

So I guess the project hasn’t been abandoned. But keep that to yourself, okay?

About the author

Anthony Haden-Guest
Anthony Haden-Guest is a writer, reporter and cartoonist. He has published in leading magazines in Britain and America, most recently in Esquire, the Financial Times, GQ (UK) and Britain's Observer Magazine. In 1979 he was awarded a New York Emmy for writing and narrating a documentary, The Affluent Immigrants (sometimes less politely known as Eurotrash) for PBS. His most recent books are True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World (Grove Atlantic), The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night (William Morrow & Co,) and a book of cartoons, The Chronicles of Now (The Allworth Press). His website is: www.anthonyhadenguest.com. You can email him directly with your comments at anthonyhaden.guest@yahoo.co.uk.

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