/ July 28, 2008

"303 Rock"

The scene outside 303 Gallery last Wednesday evening was surprisingly placid. With the seasonal doldrums setting in, I’d expected every New York art-world denizen lacking a Hamptons share to show up—for the free air-conditioning if nothing else—yet only the sparsest clutch of stoop sitters marked the Twenty-second Street location. The explanation was simple enough; I’d picked the wrong spot. 303’s Summer Celebration was planned for their new second space, just around the corner on Twenty-first. Arriving at the former posh real estate showroom (previously the classy-sounding club El Flamingo), I was reassured; the crowd was thin but swelling, and the hot-dog marquee outside was taking delivery of buns and wieners in anticipation of a hungry mob.

The venue’s capacious unfinished interior was home to a large stage, behind which a small digger perched atop a heap of fresh rubble. Two bars pushed vodka and Red Bull while opening DJ Matt Creed spun Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” “I haven’t heard this since I was in college,” enthused a Christie’s veteran. Whether headlining band the Virgins or guest DJ Thurston Moore would provide a comparable thrill remained to be seen. As Bill Pullman’s face (notoriously the subject of an entire essay in Greil Marcus’s 2006 book The Shape of Things to Come) loomed portentously over the room from a projection of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point played opposite; both were Mary Heilmann’s selections), a glance around revealed the likes of artists Dash Snow and Marilyn Minter, as well as curators Francesco Bonami, Richard Flood, and Shamim Momin, mingling with willowy fashionistas.

The proximity of hipster waifs invariably has me craving dessert, so it was fortunate that Karen Kilimnik was on hand to dispense caloric “fairy food” in the form of chocolate-chip-cookie bites (also available were teeny-tiny chocolate-ice-cream cones that melted immediately in the heat). Few others joined me, however, distracted perhaps by the arrival of Kirsten Dunst, pretty-boy escort and anonymous gal pal in tow. With that mystical ability of the properly famous, the doe-eyed starlet made her appearance, posed “reluctantly” for photographers, then melted away undetectably. Those with a more demonstrable connection to the gallery— including painter Richard Phillips, Artists Space director Benjamin Weil, and MoMA curator Barbara London—stuck around a little longer.

Ducking outside for a break before a typically uncompromising but indifferently received noise-rock set by Moore (fifty years youthful that day, as announced by balloons and cake), my companions and I found ourselves in mildly deranged conversation with terrifyingly bejeweled “dating coach” Lauren Frances. The glamour puss regaled us with tales of a recent trip to Aspen (“The women there are awful”) before offering to call her ex-partner, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, seemingly just to prove a connection between them. At this point, clocking a lewd act in progress between two nearby parked cars, I decided recess was over. With the gallery’s Mariko Munro as my guide, I headed backstage to stash my bag before things got hectic. The Virgins were there, too, preparing unhurriedly to take the stage, and very nice, polite young men they seemed (their music, though, was forgettable, muddy acoustics notwithstanding).

Outside again, and there was barely time to bump fists with Art TLV curator Andrew Renton before the heavens opened and the hot-dog tent suddenly became unfeasibly popular—periodic partial collapses eliciting choruses of squealing. Braving the storm, we headed to the West Village’s cliquey Beatrice Inn where—naturally—our initial attempt to gain admittance was unceremoniously rebuffed (with the innovative twist that the doorman pretending the nonexistence of the afterparty had also just come from the earlier event). Nevertheless, after a phone call we were in but unexpectedly on our own; the place was empty. Turns out, we were a little early, but for a moment we scared ourselves with the possibility that Beatrice had opened a second space, too.

Image: Musician Thurston Moore