/ September 27, 2009

"Net Wirth"

TWO BEEFY BOUNCERS manned the front door of 32 East Sixty-ninth Street on a recent Wednesday evening, as a slow-moving line wound its way down the block. The Upper East Side town house was last home to secondary-market gallery Zwirner & Wirth, a partnership between high-rolling dealers David Zwirner and Iwan Wirth. Zwirner will now go it alone, adding another gallery to his existing empire in Chelsea, while the uptown pile becomes the American headquarters of European supergallery Hauser & Wirth. The latter firm chose to inaugurate its new digs by recalling another former occupant, Martha Jackson Gallery, via a commissioned “reinvention” of a work that first occupied the space back in 1961. To judge from the buzzing crowd on the street, the idea was a timely one.

Happily, a nod from newly installed staffer Cay Sophie Rabinowitz got me on the fast track. Inside, on-again-off-again lighting revealed that much of the gallery’s lower level was filled with car tires. One wall was mirror clad, another occupied by shelves filled with what looked like black plastic garbage bags (filled, as it turns out, with gobs of Vaseline). The work was the late Allan Kaprow’s Yard, and this version was by William Pope.L. “It’s a challenge in heels,” squealed one young female visitor, clambering up a mountain of rubber that peaked toward the room’s far corner. A distinguished-looking older gent looked on, grinning. As the first explorer was joined by a friend whose minidress looked similarly inappropriate for the task at hand, he pulled out a point-and-shoot.

Few braved the claustrophobic scene for long, most defecting upstairs, where a more conventional display of correspondence, instructions, and other ephemera related to this and previous incarnations of the work—it has been staged, in one form or another, everywhere from Berlin to Sydney—made for easier mingling. Kaprow’s brief typewritten account of a version shown in Milan was characteristic: “A 1991 version of my 1961 Environment, this one was conceived as a tyre store. Rows of new tyres covered the walls, and an old Fiat was parked in the centre. Jacks and spanners were provided for visitors to change the wheels.” A transcript of a 1984 TV spot, meanwhile, detailed a typical question and answer: “‘Is that art or junk?’ ‘It’s art made of junk.’”

Kaprow’s widow, Coryl Crane Kaprow, presided over the scene, entirely amiable except when called on—by both visitors and gallery staff—to provide pronunciation advice (“It’s Kaproh, not Kaprow”). Rabinowitz swept me aside periodically as curatorial and critical A-listers including Thelma Golden, Richard Flood, Okwui Enwezor, Philippe Vergne, Sylvia Chivaratanond, RoseLee Goldberg, Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith, and Claire Bishop made the scene. There were even a few artists knocking about: Adam McEwen and Seth Price, Malcolm McLaren and Rodney Graham, as well as Josiah McElheny and Sharon Hayes, the last two having been drafted to present their own takes on Yard off-site (at the Queens Museum and the New York Marble Cemetery, respectively).

Back downstairs, the pull of Tire Mountain was still going strong by 8 PM. “It was great in 1961. I was a sophomore in college and came to New York for it,” one veteran recalled, wistfully, of the first Yard. “I wanna climb as much as possible!” shouted a newbie, her intent perhaps as much social as it was physical. Vlogger James Kalm, having captured the room from atop the installation, grilled an assistant about the option to rearrange the work as a recorded voice droned in seeming response: “Rearrange the tires . . . have faith . . . and wait.” Dinner, at nearby Lexington Avenue megabrasserie Orsay, was a big, noisy affair. Speeches were received with cheers and chanting (and the rare grumble) while my tablemates, artist Marilyn Minter, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, dealer Howard Read, and collector-curator Beth Rudin DeWoody, swapped stories with gusto. Read recalled meeting with an aged Georgia O’Keeffe, while Pasternak revealed an unexpected predilection for strip clubs (albeit with the caveat “It’s weird to see your male colleagues getting lap dances”). The young Kaprow, conceiving of Yard as part fun house, could scarcely have imagined that, nearly half a century later, it would be the center of such hoopla.

Image: Allan Kaprow, Yard (To Harrow), installation view