A Critic's Diary

September: A Bevy of Openings, a Trip to the Berkshires, a 90th Birthday Celebration

Joan Brown, New Year’s Eve #2 (1973) at George Adams.

It has been a wild summer, with art types venturing to Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, the Venice Biennale, and Skulptur Projekte Münster, which all coincided for the first time in a decade, but by the Tuesday following Labor Day, it seems that just about everyone is back in town. The openings come quickly. (A few galleries even open shows in August, but the less said about that, the better.) Despite some dealers throwing in the towel over the past couple years, the city continues to overflow with galleries.

On Wednesday morning, Lévy Gorvy gallery (née Dominique Lévy) hosts its annual lunch for press, which has become an unofficial season opener. Everyone is there—Zoë Lescaze, Jessica Bell-Brown, Alexandra Peers, Phyllis Tuchman, Jarrett Earnest, my ARTnews colleagues Nate Freeman and Alex Greenberger, Andrew Goldstein, Katya Kazakina, Kimberly Drew, Paddy Johnson, Robin Cembalest, and many more. The occasion is the gallery’s first New York show with the legendary Pat Steir, whose new paintings, some more than nine feet tall, are shimmering wonders.

Steir explains to the gathered journalists that she pours paint down her huge canvases and then lets it be. “I don’t know why they end up looking beautiful,” she says of her paintings, adding later, “I don’t struggle like an Abstract Expressionist says he struggles. I just do it. If it’s not good, I don’t show it to you.” The whole room to erupts in laughter. Lévy, for her part, lauds Steir for pushing “against the boundaries with courage and determination,” and notes that the show is part of the gallery’s efforts to “reflect on the theme of silence,” as it does “every September.” OK! Everyone eventually repairs to the restaurant Come Prima, a few doors down, for Italian food and wine. Afterward, back at the gallery, I interview Steir, who is charming and inspiring.

Carol Diehl speaking at a protest against the Berkshire Museum’s proposed sale of works in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on September 9.

Thursday is the big day, with galleries all over town, but especially in Chelsea, unveiling their latest exhibitions. I meet up with a friend from beyond the art world who enjoys the annual opening festivities, and we see solid new shows by Polly Apfelbaum at Alexander Gray Associates (a textile fantasia) and Amanda Ross-Ho (clock paintings and oversized objects) at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, and many more less-than-solid ones. Kara Walker’s hotly-anticipated outing at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is the most talked-about show of the month—it’s impressively all over the place, loose and experimental, an intriguing step forward for her. There are dinners everywhere, and I head to Casa Lever for one hosted by Mary Boone for Will Cotton, who’s offering up new confections at her Midtown space.

I’m working on a story about the precariousness of regional museums, so on Saturday I drive to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to visit the Berkshire Museum, which is planning to sell off 40 works—including two by Norman Rockwell that the artist donated to the museum, as well as a Francis Picabia and an Albert Bierstadt, to close a budget gap and build an endowment. About 30 people are protesting the move at a park down the block, and one is protesting in favor of it. It looks like the odds of stopping the sale are long—only a lawsuit, an intervention by the state’s attorney general, or public shaming will likely to do the trick—and there is fear in the art community that a successful sell-off could inspire other struggling museums to follow suit.

Don Celender’s Artball Playing Card (1972) for Paula Cooper.

After driving back to the city and dropping off my rental car in Queens, I stop by Eliza Douglas and Anne Imhof’s show at Galerie Buchholz, where the winner of the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion award has joined with her partner to present paintings they have made together and individually. It’s a winning affair, with a suite of disparate works tightly hung—they include quick scratches into automobile-paint monochromes, screenprints of portraits and blown-up signatures, and a few of hands and feet against white. There is a formidable roster of people in attendance—Raf Simons, hot off his well-received runway collaboration with Sterling Ruby for Calvin Klein; artists Dora Budor, Ken Okiishi, and Marie Karlberg; adviser Thea Westreich; and dealers Ebony L. Haynes and Jeffrey Deitch. The party moves to a penthouse apartment on East End, with an outdoor space that wraps around three sides, overlooking Randalls and Roosevelt Islands. I realize I have never seen New York from anywhere near this angle before.

On the afternoon of September 12, the scholar Judith Stein, author of an erudite book about the inscrutable late dealer Richard Bellamy (of Green Gallery fame), leads a tour of the show she’s organized about Bellamy’s history at Peter Freeman Inc, which is filled with great and little-seen pieces by Neil Jenney (a scrappy metal, Post-Minimalist sculpture with neon), Michael Heizer (a crazy double portrait of Robert and Ethel Scull), Claes Oldenburg, and others. In a letter to Bellamy, Lee Lozano writes in her inimitable capital letters, “I APOLOGIZE FOR MY BAD BEHAVIOR . . . DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU HEAR ABOUT ME.” Inside a vitrine, there’s Don Celender’s Artball Playing Cards (1972), with major art-world figures from the era of its making depicted as football players. Paula Cooper is a quarterback, naturally.

A poster by Sterling Ruby at the New York Art Book Fair.

High Line Art holds its annual dinner on the 14th, bringing a cross-section of the art crowd to a covered stretch of the elevated park. Max Hooper Schneider has created two hallucinogenically lit aquariums for the affair, and Maurizio Cattelan has his own sports-themed contribution: soccer-style scarves that read “High Since 1934,” accompanied by cannabis leaves.

A few days later, David Zwirner opens his new gallery on the Upper East Side in the old home of Richard L. Feigen & Co. (But doesn’t Zwirner already have four separate spaces in New York City? An uptown gallery has become a requirement for the most high-flying dealers, even those already established in Chelsea.) There is a treasure chest of a show on view called “Josef and Anni and Ruth and Ray,” with works by the two Albers, Asawa, and Johnson, plus a few Donald Judds and a David Hammons. It is a tony affair—Champagne and canapés, dealers and advisers and collector types. I spot Brian Faucette, who’s a director at Derek Eller, lounging in an armchair, and applaud him for showing support for another fledgling dealer. “I’m here to support an artist!” he says, pointing to Miles Huston, who is holding court among a handful of his little gemlike geometric paintings. It turns out we’re in the offices of the advisory firm Adler Beatty, which occupies part of the building.

An opening at the Museum of Modern Art of its new Louise Bourgeois show is beginning just to the south, but I can’t seem to get there. It’s United Nations week, and President Trump is in town, meaning that the streets around the museum are blocked off. Cruising down Fifth Avenue on bike, I’m stopped by a police officer at 57th Street and told to head west, even as cars fly right by me. This is rather unfortunate, not least because I love MoMA openings and I am rather looking forward to the first one of the season. I consider debating the point with the cop, or navigating around the blockade, but Lescaze is celebrating Paleoart, her new book with Walton Ford, with a party at the West Village home of Rachel Lee Hovnanian, and time is running short. Bourgeois and MoMA festivities will have to wait for another day.

A performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations at the Guggenheim Museum, early on the morning of September 27.

On the 26th, at about 30 minutes to midnight, following a dinner party, I take a cab with friends to the Guggenheim, where a series of intrepid piano players are circling their way through Erik Satie’s Vexations (ca. 1893) in the museum’s theater to an audience of perhaps 40 people. (The performance—here’s a brief video—is part of the completely insane show “Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897.”)

The performance is in its fifth hour—not even a third of the way through its 840 repetitions. I stay for about 90 minutes, and then head out through the rotunda, where the museum’s hotly controversial Chinese contemporary art survey is mid-install, and onto the deserted Upper East Side streets in search of a ride home. The city feels fresh and strange, and it comforting to know that, even as I head home to sleep, a group of devotees are keeping the artwork going. At about 1:30 p.m. the next day the piece concludes.

On the 28th, artist Zak Kitnick presents the latest show at the one-night-only gallery he runs in his studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which he calls, simply, ZAK’S. The opening is a rollicking affair, with a wide variety of beverages and small bites, and the opportunity to smoke. True hospitality. Anne Libby is showing wonderfully bizarre three-dimensional objects she’s made by covering a steel structure with laminated slices of seaweed—fragile, organic material protected through artificial interventions. Outside, it is the coolest it’s been in quite some time.

Robert Morris, Untitled, 1978, in Peter Halley’s show at Greene Naftali.

Shows seen: Adrian Piper (Lévy Gorvy), an apertif for her forthcoming MoMA retrospective; bland Tom Friedman videos (Luhring Augustine); Lin Tianmiao (Lelong & Co.); giant, looming Leon Polk Smith hard-edge numbers (Lisson); a superlative garden of Stanley Whitney drawings (Lisson); Jack Dummer (White Columns), Helen Rae (White Columns); blissed-out, richly ornamented Will Sheldon wall works, just avoiding hippie clichés (White Columns); Walter Swennen (White Columns); a rare Chris Ofili show, with just four mysterious paintings hung inside a chain-link case, surrounded by a smoky wall work (David Zwirner); Ad Reinhardt’s blue monochromes, perfectly installed (Zwirner); Ruth Asawa, glorious but overhung (also Zwirner!); “Trisha Donnelly, Vincent Fecteau, Peter Fischli David Weiss, Nan Goldin, Martin Honert, Michel Majerus, Paul Sietsema, and Rebecca Warren” (Matthew Marks); heartwarming Joan Brown portraits at George Adams; Sanford Biggers quilts at (Boesky East), Trevor Paglen at (Metro Pictures), Beverly Semmes’s soothing curtains at (Susan Inglett), Maya Lin (Pace); unexpectedly tiny but impressive, and, naturally, trippy Lucas Samaras photos (Pace); Tim Bavington (Morgan Lehman); Mark Thomas Gibson (Fredericks & Freiser); extroverted, ramshackle constructed paintings by Leslie Wayne (Jack Shainman); “Grim Tales” (Cassina Projects); Nathalie Boutté (Yossi Milo); “Citings / Sightings” (Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.); Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s promising but uneven Americana (Marlborough Contemporary); Devin Troy Strother (Marlborough Contemporary); and Harry Gamboa Jr. (Marlborough Contemporary); Louise Fishman (Cheim & Read); “A Line Can Go Anywhere, curated by Jenelle Porter (James Cohan); “Post-War Highlights,” which includes a peculiar early Roy Lichtenstein abstraction (Hollis Taggart Galleries); almost-neon-bright Daniel Heidkamp prints (Pace Prints); the pop-inflected nightmares of Tatsuo Ikeda (Fergus McCaffrey); an eye-melting Peter Halley show with violent yellow walls and an amazing chrome and copper Robert Morris sculpture from 1978 tucked in the last room (Greene Naftali); a gorgeous trio of expansive Allen Ruppersberg pieces, including his classic posters and a sprawling memorial to lost avant-garde giants (Greene Naftali); “Arte Povera,” curated by Ingvild Goetz (Hauser & Wirth); punchy Cheyney Thompson paintings hung based on an expectedly baroque conceptual conceit (Andrew Kreps); awesome, awesome, awesome ceramics by Magdalena Suarez Frimkess (Kaufmann Repetto); Mary Corse’s utterly pure paintings (Lehmann Maupin); Franklin Evans’s rainbow-like paintings (Ameringer McEnery Yohe); Robert Cottingham (Ameringer McEnery Yohe); Beverly Fishman’s glowing shapes (Kravets Wehby); Lisa Oppenheim’s conceptual photo productions (Tanya Bonakdar, where I find her giving a tour to students one Saturday); and Christian Marclay’s scatter art entry, a field of 750 hydrostone-cast telephones resembled bones (Cooper).

Rosalyn Drexler, Rub Out, 1988, at Garth Greenan.

And more: Carey Young (Paula Cooper); Eva Rothschild (303 Gallery); the still-underrated Rosalyn Drexler (Garth Greenan); Mindy Rose Schwartz (Queer Thoughts); Jesse Edwards (New Release); Kelly Jazvac (Fierman); Becca Albee (Situations); Petra Cortright (Foxy Production); Naotaka Hiro (Brennan & Griffin); Jessica Dickson (James Fuentes); Katja Novitskova (City Hall Park); Wim Delvoye (Perrotin); Mieko Meguro (Shoot the Lobster); “Esurient Eyes” (Regina Rex); Rachel Hecker (Yours Mine & Ours); Cajsa von Zeipel (Company); Aaron Flint Jamison (both Miguel Abreu spots, and as gnomic as ever); Israel Lund / Amy Granat (David Lewis); Vaginal Davis & Louise Nevelson, an unexpected match made in heaven (Invisible-Exports); Kahlil Robert Irving (Callicoon Fine Arts); Rachel Rose‘s superb Venice Biennale piece, which screens from night until morning (Gavin Brown’s Enterprise); Rirkrit Tiravanija (Gavin Brown’s Enterprise); Christopher Wilmarth (Betty Cuningham); Larry Rivers (Tibor de Nagy); William A. Hall (Andrew Edlin); Lisa Brice (Salon 94); Sam Falls (Eva Presenhuber); the NY Art Book Fair (MoMA PS1), always one of the most entertaining and sweatiest nights of the year; Amir Nikravan (Nathalie Karg); Amy Yao (47 Canal); Trevor Shimizu (47 Canal); Nicolas Party (Karma); Patrick Berran (Chapter NY); Jen DeNike and Damien Echols (Participant); Sally Saul and “Other Romances” (Rachel Uffner); “1107 Manhattan Ave. Pt. II” (Spencer Brownstone, which I discover by happenstance, not realizing that it has opened along Suffolk); Tom Burckhardt (Pierogi); Craig Kalpakjian (Kai Matsumiya); Colette (Mitchell Algus); Karl Wirsum (Derek Eller); Louis Fratino (Thierry Goldberg); really lovely Andreas Schulze paintings (Team); Chris Hood (Lyles & King); Victoria Fu (Simon Preston); Bernadette Mayer (Canada); Lily Ludlow (Canada); Simone Shubuck (Wifey); Three Star Books at Grand Army Collective; Stefan Tcherepnin (Real Fine Arts); Robert Adams (Marks); Thomas Eggerer and Wade Guyton and Stephen Prina (Petzel); “Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo” (Brooklyn Museum); and Vivienne Griffin (Bureau at Grand Army Collective).

Alex Katz, celebrating his 90th birthday at the Odeon.

On the last day of the month, Paris dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, London dealer Timothy Taylor (newly expanded to New York), and New York’s own Gavin Brown throw a 90th birthday party for Alex Katz at the Odeon, which opened in Tribeca when Katz was a mere 53. Katz welcomes friends and admirers, like Dana Schutz, Peter Eleey, Laura Hoptman, Chuck Close, David Salle, Eddie Martinez, Adam Weinberg, and quite a few more. He is wearing a great white blazer and a black shirt with a large, wide collar. Suddenly a giant cake adorned with one of his paintings of flowers is rolled in, alight with candles and sparklers, and the toasts commence. “I don’t know what one can really say in the face of 90 years,” Brown says, while describing all that the artist has accomplished.

“He’s seen generations of artists come through New York, and he’s supported those artists,” Brown continues. “It’s just, to me, quite an extraordinary thing to have traversed the entire history of postwar New York and on into the 21st century, but what really strikes me about Alex is his youthfulness. He is really one of the youngest men I know.” He claims that this may have to do with the fact that Katz does hundreds of chin-ups, sit-ups, and push-ups every day.

With his wife, Ada, watching him with a smile from a stool at the bar, Katz thanks everyone for coming. “Painting feels like a collaborative effort that has to do with your friends supporting you,” he says. “I want to thank you all for supporting me. I couldn’t have done it by myself. It all has to do with the support of the community.” And then he blows out the candles.

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