Natalie Portman smiled. She was one of 100 Museum of Modern Art Junior Associates enjoying cocktails at Anthony James’ dingy, cavernous Varick Street studio last month, where the toilet is rusty and there is little light, all the better to see James’ new presold pieces, a white neon Jesus and a destroyed Ferrari, the image of which seems to extend forever, on all sides, in a mirrored vitrine.
Taking a cue from Jasper Johns’ famous dictum to do something to something and then do something else, James had crashed a brand new red Ferrari into a tree in Newburgh, N.Y., last fall, with full permission of the Ferrari corporation, for whom he had installed one of his sculptures, a Ferrari that bisects the floor and ceiling of two floors at Ferrari headquarters on Park Avenue. The blowtorched Newburgh wreck in James’ studio reminded me of Ed Kienholz. "Never heard of him," James replied.
No stranger to danger, Anthony has been spending a lot of time at Beth Rudin DeWoody’s Palm Beach estate, where he installed a second outdoors version of his signature mirrored birch tree forests. James stood in DeWoody’s garden with one electric wire in each hand, awaiting a signal from the handyman that the electricity was turned off. Well, somebody got it wrong, for when Anthony touched the two wires together, volts surged through his body and he was thrown 100 feet. Two days of deafness and his Cockney hair standing on end ensued.
Everything Anthony James makes, at considerable expense, is presold to collectors like DeWoody and Lawrence Benenson, but the one thing he can’t land is a New York gallery, though some do seem to be interested. Slater Bradley took Anthony over to see Jose Freire and Jeffrey Deitch, but nothing developed, even though both dealers love the work, and Anthony has been in negotiations with Paula Cooper forever. Perhaps these top dealers are risk averse to accident-prone Anthony. No matter, more money for James to pay his all-Chinese crew.
James has produced a series of paintings of Ferrari Destructo, again all sold, and is speeding around Manhattan in the different sports cars he borrows from an elite car club. For the first time in his life he is flush with cash, so who needs a New York dealer?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).