ARTWALK NY 2003, A REPORT
New York City currently has 39,000 homeless, 17,000 of them children. So said Mary Brosnahan, director of the Coalition for the Homeless, as the ninth annual Artwalk NY fundraiser kicked off at Cooper Union in the East Village on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2003. This year's honoree was Yoko Ono, the 70-year-old Fluxus artist whose gallery and museum career has seen something of a revival of late. She was interviewed by the steadfast ABC newscaster Peter Jennings, an Artwalk regular, who greeted the half-filled auditorium with a caution -- no photographs allowed.
Simply dressed in jeans and a black shirt, her hair cut in a spiky bob, Yoko marched out to center stage and immediately passed out blue puzzle pieces to everyone in the audience, saying that her Cracked Sky Piece commemorated 9/11, and that "one day in 10 years we'll meet and put the sky together again." The actual puzzle pieces seem to be from an earlier event, since they are carry a "Spring '98" date. The Tokyo-born diva then kicked things off in earnest with one of her trademark screeches into the mike.
After she finally sat down, Jennings made a gallant effort to interview Yoko, inquiring as to her family -- apparently distinguished -- and her experiences during World War II. But she struck a guru pose, turning away questions with gnomic replies like "it's not necessary to know that." When he asked her if she had a role model, she replied, "I can't think of one." Jennings then wondered whether she was aware that she was a role model for many people.
"People don't need role models," Yoko said to the audience. "Everyone is unique. What you're doing in your life is incredible -- look inside yourself and open your powers."
After a bit more of this, Yoko jumped up again and started pacing, then invited Jennings to dance, which, good sport that he is, he assented.
"Every day I do one thing that makes my heart dance, like look at the sky," Yoko said into the mike, while dancing. "Sometimes I can't, because I'm too depressed -- if that happens to you, call your friends and do something that makes their heart dance. Do that for three months and see how your life changes."
At this point, Yoko picked up a large black cloth bag from the floor and pulled Jennings into it for an impromptu performance of her 1965 Bag Piece, a work in which two people undress, or perhaps exchange clothes, in a bag outside of the sight of the audience. As the sack morphed and moved -- it took on shapes not unlike Ken Price's ceramic sculptures -- out came first their shoes, then their socks and finally Jennings' shirt.
"Darling, I love you," joked Jennings, in the first of a series of quips that turned the piece into a comedy act. "He has the microphone to protect him," observed Yoko. "Help," said Jennings.
Breathing hard, the newscaster eventually emerged from the bag and retired behind a column in Cooper Hewitt's great hall to adjust his clothes. "Interviewing George Bush was nothing like this!"
The conversation continued, such as it was, with Yoko patiently telling the story of her fortuitous meeting with John Lennon at her 1967 exhibition in London -- a much-told tale that is now 35 years old. Still, she seemed to have some real feeling when she emphasized how "beautiful" and "elegant" John looked.
Throughout, she offered koan-like gems of wisdom. When Jennings asked how she responded to people reacting to her art with complaints that "their kid could do that," Yoko was ready. "Kids are the most powerful people," she said.
During the question-and-answer period the Australian artist Tracey Moffatt asked Yoko if she thought art-making were a little like witchcraft. "Most artists are prophets," Yoko said. "And I definitely thought John was a magician."
In response to another question, Yoko ventured that "we should just be generous to each other. Hate is not the opposite of love. . . the opposite of love is fear. Stupidity is not the opposite of wisdom. . . the opposite of wisdom is confusion. We're wise people -- take the confusion away and you'll be fine."
She finally ended with last word -- "I love you."
After the talk, Yoko seemed to expect "reporters" to interview her briefly in a temporary "green room" at the side of the stage, and since there were no real journalists on hand, your correspondent was drafted and ushered in for a face-to-face with the great one. This fiasco lead nowhere, since I had no questions ready, and anyway, she had made it clear on stage that people who asked her questions were by definition kind of dumb.
Outside, I complained to writer and Bald Ego editor Glenn O'Brien that I could sense her hostility. "That's right," he said. "Peace, Love and Fuck You."
The actual "art walking" then began, with tours of artists studios led by several celebrated art professionals, including O'Brien, Studio Museum in Harlem curator Christine Kim, Paper magazine editor Carlo McCormick and International Center of Photography curator Brian Wallis. One bit of scandal did come back through the grapevine, as the art-walkers were shocked during the visit to the cellar studio of Mike Bidlo when a woman urinated on a canvas to make an oxidation painting.
The action was part of Bidlo's new series, "Waterworks," which was on view in a show in the artist's East 5th Street studio curated by Robert Costa. According to Costa, "Waterworks" combines motifs from works by three modern masters: Marcel Duchamp's urinal and bottle rack sculptures, Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and Andy Warhol's Oxidations. "In all three cases," writes Costa in the pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition, "the urine theme brings to the art a psychological subtext that may have eluded each of these artists."
As it happens, Yoko has her own major new installation, titled "Odyssey of a Cockroach," down at the cavernous Deitch Projects garage in SoHo. This sprawling assortment of giant-sized debris, including a huge heap of mannequin parts, a big shoe and several human-sized rat traps, is designed to cast the viewer as a bug. This bit of Buddhist identification has a sadistic subtext: hey, I'm no cockroach, bitch!
On a table are some rubber stamps that allow visitors to stamp "peace" on a map, a notably impotent gesture, along with some index cards printed with a quote attributed to Goering at the Nuremberg Trials -- "it is always a simple matter to drag people along" to war, said the Reich-Marshall, "all you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked."
The Artwalk NY benefit climaxed that evening with a festive dinner and live auction, conducted by Sotheby's auctioneer Jamie Niven in the echoing rotunda of the U.S. Custom House on Battery Park. Jane Wenner, wife of Jann and half-owner of Rolling Stone, bought a large work on paper by Julian Schnabel for $18,000, while Larry Warsh, publisher of Museums magazine, won a Kehinde Wiley painting for $9,000.
The evening came to an end when Yoko was presented with an honorary award. David "Wangdoodle" Ross, as Charlie Finch memorably called the former director of the Whitney Museum, provided a rapturous introduction. "Love has been the ideal that powers this woman," he said, "whose energy has been impossible to confine, an energy that we hope goes on and on. Yoko is one of the greatest artists of this century because she is an artist who shows us that 'all you need is love'."
He is doubtless right -- at the auction, someone bought Yoko Ono's own 1997 painting of a big breast, titled Mommy Was Beautiful, for $25,000.
WHITNEY RELEASES 2004 BIENNIAL LIST
The 2004 Whitney Museum Biennial Exhibition, Mar. 11-May 30, 2004, includes 108 artists and collaborative groups in an exhibition organized by curators Chrissie Iles, Shamim M. Momin and Debra Singer. Dubbed "An Intergenerational Conversation," the show features several generations of artists and reflects several trends: pop culture and politics of the late 1960s and early '70s; the construction of fantastic worlds and uncanny spaces, "often incorporating psychedelia, the Gothic and the apocalyptic"; and "a prevalence of abstract and figurative paintings and drawings as well as hand-processed films."
The artists: Marina Abramovic, Laylah Ali, David Altmejd, Antony and the Johnsons, Cory Arcangel/BEIGE, assume vivid astro focus, Hernan Bas, Dike Blair, Jeremy Blake, Mel Bochner, Andrea Bowers, Slater Bradley, Stan Brakhage, Cecily Brown, Tom Burr, Ernesto Caivano, Maurizio Cattelan, Pip Chodorov, Liz Craft, Santiago Cucullu, Amy Cutler, Taylor Davis, Sue DeBeer, Lecia Dole-Recio, Sam Durant, Bradley Eros, Spencer Finch, Rob Fischer, Kim Fisher, Morgan Fisher, Harrell Fletcher, James Fotopoulos, Barnaby Furnas, Sandra Gibson, Jack Goldstein, Katy Grannan, Sam Green & Bill Siegel, Katie Grinnan, Wade Guyton, Mark Handforth, Alex Hay, David Hockney, Jim Hodges, Christian Holstad, Roni Horn, Craigie Horsfield, Peter Hutton, Emily Jacir, Isaac Julien, Miranda July, Glenn Kaino, Mary Kelly, Terence Koh, Yayoi Kusama, Noemie Lafrance, Lee Mingwei, Golan Levin, Sharon Lockhart, Robert Longo, Los Super Elegantes, Robert Mangold, Virgil Marti, Cameron Martin, Anthony McCall, Paul McCarthy, Bruce McClure, Julie Mehretu, Jonas Mekas, Aleksandra Mir, Dave Muller, Julie Murray, Julie Atlas Muz, Andrew Noren, Robyn O'Neil, Jim O'Rourke, Catherine Opie, Laura Owens, Raymond Pettibon, Elizabeth Peyton, Chloe Piene, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, Luis Recoder, Liisa Roberts, Dario Robleto, Matthew Ronay, Aida Ruilova, Anne-Marie Schleiner, Brody Condon and Joan Leandre (the "Velvet-Strike" team), James Siena, Amy Sillman, Simparch, Zak Smith, Yutaka Sone, Alec Soth, Deborah Stratman, Catherine Sullivan, Eve Sussman, Julianne Swartz, Erick Swenson, Fred Tomaselli, Tracy and the Plastics (Wynne Greenwood), Jim Trainor, Tam Van Tran, Banks Violette, Eric Wesley, Olav Westphalen, TJ Wilcox, Andrea Zittel.
PHILLIPS LEADS PHOTO SALES
The October photography auctions in New York have come and gone, and underdog Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg can "pop open the champagne," in the words of new New York Sun (and former Artnet Magazine) auction scribe Lindsay Pollock. All told, the two days of sales at Phillips on Oct. 17 and 18, 2003, totaled about $4.5 million, and set a new auction record for eight artists. Among these were Diane Arbus, whose portfolio A Box of 10 Photographs was knocked down for $405,500 and William Eggleston, whose Memphis (Tricycle) went for $207,500. Phillips also set auction records for Francesca Woodman ($83,650), Vera Lutter ($50,190), Elger Esser ($21,510), Joseph Albers ($21,510), Allen Ginsberg ($16,133) and Ted Croner ($3,824). According to the Baer Faxt, the Arbus portfolio was bought by Tica Wilson of Gagosian Gallery.
On Oct. 17, Phillips also offered the Joshua Smith Collection of photos without reserve. The total was $1.4 million, just below the presale low estimate of $1.5 million. The sale set records for Helen Levitt for her World War II era photo of a boy on a stoop with an ice cream in one hand and a toy pistol in the other ($50,190), Lee Friedlander for his minimalist 1965 picture of his own cast shadow ($25,095) and Nathan Lerner for his 1940 Surrealist montage of an eye in a field of pointy tacks ($4,541).
Sotheby's New York photography sale on Oct. 17, 2003, totaled $3.3 million, within presale estimates of $2.5 million-$3.8 million, with 78 percent of the 239 lots finding buyers. Top lot, and a record for the artist at auction, was Edward Weston's classic vintage print from 1927, Two Shells, which sold for $467,200 (est. $200,000-$300,000). Other top lots included Weston's 1936 Nude on Sand, Oceano ($176,000), Harry Callahan's oversize Eleanor from 1948 (printed later) ($102,000), and Weston's 1921 vintage Tina Modotti ($84,000).