/ November 5, 2008

"Elective Affinities"

WHILE THE ART WORLD likes to boast of a nuanced relationship to politics—albeit one that often bears a suspicious resemblance to apathy when it comes time to take a stand—it’s also loath to pass up the opportunity for a good party. And for all the studied ambivalence and ambiguity in which artists and their associates indulge, sometimes you just have to go with the flow. So it was that on Tuesday’s night of decision, a clutch of Manhattan galleries transformed themselves into oversize TV lounges for the benefit of those without plasma screens and cheap wine at home.

Invitations abounded, including one for a “sleepover” at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, another to a DJ party at the New Museum, and one for a Creative Time gathering at the Norwood. At Exit Art, the midtown nonprofit had already customized their storefront neon sign, altering it to a stridently optimistic CHANGE, and followed up inside with an offer of “change purses” at ten bucks apiece. Doors opened at seven, and by the time I arrived half an hour later, the long, winding line for the open bar was already mimicking those at the polls. Early birds were comfortably installed on sofas ranged in front of two projection screens, while the rest of the crowd roamed the space slurping at cups of broth from a temporary soup kitchen (a comment on the economy, perhaps) and, when there were no results to whoop at, gazed distractedly at the LIVE SCREEN PRINTING!! in progress throughout.

At Gavin Brown’s West Village space, distractions were fewer, but those assembled were just as enthused. In the packed gallery, Jonathan Horowitz’s unequivocally titled show “Obama ’08” made a perfect backdrop for an evening of sanctioned couch-potato behavior, offering an auditorium divided into red and blue halves, with screens relaying Fox News to one side (guess which?) and CNN to the other. Also helping to set the scene were a series, lining the walls, of portraits depicting every president (Obama’s was present, but not yet hung) and a net on the ceiling filled with festive balloons. Camera crews—from the Huffington Post, among others—jostled for position as new arrivals forwent the hard seats ranged around the room’s perimeter in favor of the carpeted floor.

Upstairs, the smaller crowd was dense with art-world celebs, all chomping on chili, swilling beer, and clustering around a solitary, smaller video projection in hope of catching news as it broke. Among those craning for a view alongside Brown and Horowitz were artists Elizabeth Peyton, Rob Pruitt, Fia Backström, Jeremy Deller, and Leigh Ledare, curators Alison Gingeras, Bob Nickas, and Laura Hoptman, dealers Carol Greene and Lisa Cooley, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley with writer Bill Powers, and musician Mira Billotte of White Magic. Mary-Kate Olsen was there, too—on the arm of artist Nate Lowman—as was the redoubtable Clarissa Dalrymple, complaining vociferously about TV ad breaks.

As the news of, well, you know what, broke, the place erupted in cheers and applause and all seemed right with the world. In the gallery, balloons were popped en masse, and Horowitz’s image of the new president elect was ceremoniously installed. A drift toward the exit began shortly thereafter, but for many the party would go on, wending its way into the streets and squares. And in Peyton’s case, the celebration would extend into a more lasting artistic statement; the painter’s oil study Michelle and Sasha Obama Listening to Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention August 2008, which on Tuesday night hung on the upstairs wall, just south of the chili table, was appended to her current show at the New Museum the following day. Yes, she can.

Image: Gavin Brown with artists Jonathan Horowitz and Elizabeth Peyton