I went to my first party at the Park Avenue Armory in 1966 and the other night I went to another one. During the intervening 42 years of debutante parties, art fairs and benefits, one question has lingered in my mind: where the hell are the troops?
The answer is that they are on the wall, fustian oil paintings of forgotten generals syncopated by dozens of moth-eaten deer and moose heads. In its passive-aggressive way, the Whitney Museum has turned this murky stuff into "art" for its latest dullsville biennial. Our host the other night was "Mr. Tequila," Eduardo Sarabia, whose Salon Aleman transforms one of the rooms at the Park Avenue Armory into a South of the Border boîte. I was the first critic to write about him, in 2002. Sarabia has survived watching Mexican gangsters murder his close friend outside his family’s ceramics factory and seeing art world pals die from overdoses in the East Village and East L.A., so it is understandable that he would want to party.
Indeed, the scruffy Los Angeles Dodger uniform wearer has been transformed by his recent celebrity, and marriage to a Mexican princess of considerable charm, into a lounge lizard lothario, perfumed, clean cut and elegant. Chaos is never far from Sarabia’s soul, however, as was proven last week -- he had been staying at the home of his dealers, Alice and Paul Judelson, which missed being pulverized by that midtown crane collapse by only about 100 feet.
My Sarabian experience at the Armory was a tad more prosaic. The only other person in Tequilaville over the age of 30 other than myself was the veteran performance artist Colette (between us we are 110 years old), and yet some blonde door hussy on the Whitney staff attempted to card me! Just like at proms of old, young bureaucrats were checking IDs and stamping hands with ink so the kiddies could go out for a smoke or a snuggle in the Armory bathrooms, which are freshly painted, per order of the Whitney, in lime green and pink, the best (and virtually the only) painting in the Tinker Toy Biennial.
Whit director Adam Weinberg, in acknowledging Leonard Lauder’s record-breaking cash infusion, solipsistically claimed that the funds would help maintain the Whitney’s "cutting edge." Said "edge" now amounts to little more than dancing to a local bar band at the Yacht Club and puking off the dock. I did it 40 years ago, so that makes me tres avant-garde. Adam, when’s my solo show?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).