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From superpower to no power this week in New York

Silly season in New York brings mobsters out on the town, gay-makeovers for the men of America and 80s disco to Kenny Schacter’s new gallery

New York’s darkest night brings out the artist in everyone

Life imitated art, namely, David Hammons’ art, during New York’s recent blackout. That night, city residents, loathe to simmer in their hot apartments, could be seen walking the very dark streets carrying flashlights, and the mischievous among them sprang from behind corners to frighten the unsuspecting. Very much indeed like Hammons’ recent installation at Ace Gallery, in which visitors navigated pitch-black, cavernous rooms armed with tiny blue flashlights, often giving one another a scare. On a sadder note, the blackout occurred just hours after former MoMA curator Kirk Varnedoe died. It was a fitting send-off for a man whose passion for art was ever in evidence—turn out the lights.

Mobsters amuse summer slickers

Those of us stuck in the city over the sleepy, sweaty summer generally occupy ourselves with the angst of the existential mantra: “Why am I here?” This time around we were kept on our toes by a bevy of above-average group shows, and by “The Mob Project”, started in May by “Bill”, who happens to be a close friend of Flotsam, and whose name has since become known worldwide, as the flash mob phenomenon has spread from San Francisco to the UK and Germany. Here’s how it works: emails instructing “mobsters” when and where to meet are sent to a newsletter list, and then forwarded to countless others. Bill’s emails invariably start out with the sly rhetorical question, “Why form an inexplicable mob?” Well, why not? Recent mobs of hundreds have busied themselves bird-calling in Central Park and cowering before a huge animatronic dinosaur in a toy store at Times Square. Flotsam recently had lunch with Bill, who discussed the art-related aspects of the project: “Some people have called the Mob Project “crowd art”. To me, though, what's really being acted upon are the social impulses of everyone touched by it—not just those who mob but those who watch the mob, or even those who read about the mob or who want to go to the mob but can't. The Mob Project dispenses with the art itself but retains the scene.” His artistic influences? “Stanley Milgram.” Like the 1960s-era social psychologist, Bill is experimenting with obedience to authority…happily, sans shock treatments.

Disco fever at the Bowery

Meanwhile down on the Bowery, the bank building-cum-club, Capitale, was taken over by Art Band, the latest event and group show combo organised by the inexhaustible gallerist/impressario Kenny Schacter. The raucous opening featured a full roster of groovy rock bands with such lively names as Cheeseburger. On hand that night was the lovely Rob Reynolds, who wondered aloud whether the room’s elaborate chandelier competed with his painting, which, he added with a touch of good-humoured chagrin, had been installed above a trashcan. But it looked splendid, and provided visual pleasure for anyone with something to dispose of. This may be a rehearsal for the latest Schacter venture; Kim Gordon, frontwoman for the rock band Sonic Youth, and Jutta Koether, thought Schacter’s own Vito Acconci-designed contemporary space over in the West Village had the makings of an 80s-era disco so the two are collaborating this month to turn it into an art and culture entertainment hub. Various bands will stop by to play, and the cosy upstairs room is to be transformed into a video lounge. You can buy a membership card at the bargain price of one dollar, far cheaper than an 80s club, and there’s no velvet rope, no long line, and no burly bouncers.

Art critics: whores or eunuchs?

But who needs rock’n’roll, when you can tune in to audio files on the website of Hilton Kramer's conservative mag The New Criterion, and groove to his disembodied voice crankily issuing the very raciest of sound bytes: “Critics who refuse to make judgments...are quickly seen to be... either the whores or the eunuchs of their profession…”

Queer eye for the straight guy

The magic of video tape allowed those of us partying chez Schacter to capture the latest addition to the reality TV grab-bag, “Queer eye for the straight guy”, in which a team of five gay men makeover some hopeless hetero: hair, clothes, interior design, the works. That week’s episode was of keen interest, not only because the “straight guy” in question was an artist, but because Artnet.com editor Walter Robinson was featured in the role of “art critic”. Not surprisingly, the show offered a wildly distorted view of the art world. Anyway, as everyone knows, (Cecily Brown aside) it’s the deathly pale, gothed-out basement dwellers and the expletive-spewing Tracey Emin types who really make it to the big time.

A very crafty guy

Ken Price’s quirkily appealing ceramic sculptures ably straddle the worlds of, dare we say it, “craft”, and contemporary art. He is perhaps matched in that feat only by his own teacher, the great Peter Voulkos, a survey of whose ceramics was recently at Charles Cowles Gallery. According to LA Louver Gallery, where a group of recent Prices are clustered on pedestals in the back room, visitors and collectors invariably want to know “how are these made?” Could it be that high art folk are more interested in “craft” than they pretend to be? Price’s work has a dedicated following. One prominent Price fan is art critic Dave Hickey, who once wrote fondly of the little Ken Price on his desk, and went on to put the ceramicist’s work in his 2001 Site Santa Fe biennial, next to a suite of panels by Ellsworth Kelly. This month Matthew Marks opens an exhibition of Price’s sculptures in his 24th Street space.

Friends in high places

At a July public hearing in New York, progress was made on preserving the High Line, a long disused stretch of elevated railway that runs along the west side of Manhattan, passing above Chelsea galleries. This is surely due to the High Line’s friends in high places, namely the Friends of the High Line, which include Patricia Hearst, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Sopranos star Edie Falco, and, most vocal of them all, movie actor Edward Norton, who recently co-chaired a benefit for the Line in New York. The benefit was held at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station, in conjunction with an exhibition of design proposals for the Line; among the most outrageous of the winning ideas was one that suggested turning it into a giant swimming pool. Quaintest touch: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Award given to the best designs incorporating plants and wildflowers native to New York. Which brings up an intriguing, impossible proposal: why not leave the line as is, as it appears, in all its unruly verdancy, in Joel Sternfeld’s photo book “Walking the High Line”.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'From superpower to no power'