A small, hunched-over man furtively exited Gagosian Gallery last Saturday night. In counterpoint to his charcoal gray thatch of hair, a brand new jet-black growth under his nose made him resemble a typical "Moustache Pete" guarding his clubhouse on Mulberry Street.
The man was Frank Stella, one of the aging stars somberly burning at James Rosenquist's Chelsea vernissage.
Looking like Georgia O'Keeffe in a yellow cardigan, Bob Rauschenberg merrily pushed his seriously ill collaborator, Bell Labs legend Billy Klüver, around the gallery in a wheelchair. You closed your eyes for a second, and Bob suddenly sprouted roller skates and glider wings. Carolee Schneemann just smiled.
"On Golden Pond" Chelsea style wouldn't be complete without its middle-aged and younger relations.
Andres Serrano handed us a red-and-yellow card, reading "theinterpretationofdreams.org."
"I don't even own a computer, Charlie," Serrano laughed devilishly, "but I thought it would be a good idea to put up my new work on the World Wide Web." His show opens at Paula Cooper, May 12.
Jeff Koons grinned at Rosenquist like a zombie, and Jim generously grinned right back, oblivious to the "Rosenquists" Koons has been disgorging from his studio recently.
And Rosenquist is finding it difficult to compete -- his new work, a giant candy-cane vortex spinning like the Milky Way, and its smaller progeny in the back gallery, are one more lesson from the maelstrom school of contemporary art: Terry Winters, Matthew Ritchie, Sara Sze and Stella's own computerized googlebytes from a few years back.
If you put one of these rosy monsters under the right Malibu light, I guess you've got a six-figure kaleidoscope to entertain the kiddies.
But this work seems an existential cop-out next to Rosenquist's disturbing cellophane-wrapped dolls of the early '90s, or his earlier flora and fauna conundrums, which Koons has so shamelessly appropriated.
Nevertheless, because he has always been underrated, Rosenquist's paintings always exceed expectations, and he's so lively and healthy, that it's a kick to be around him -- an art Lourdes for Stella, Bob, Billy, and anybody with those late evening Chelsea blues.
Youth arrived late and was dutifully served. Cecily Brown stepped from her limo in a gorgeous zebra-swirled evening gown, lending her milky cheeks for assorted kisses, while Rachel Feinstein, and her assorted imitators, shimmered in basic black and a blonde bob.
Surveying it all, Larry Gagosian looked carefree and utterly relaxed. "What a night," he said.
A night that, with the swift passage of time, bears its aging constellation into the past.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).