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when the party comes back to bite your butt

Post #389 • October 18, 2004, 6:49 AM • 12 Comments

By now everyone and their cat knows about the Nina Arias flap, but in case you missed it, here's the money quote from Nick Cindric, now sole proprietor of Rocket Projects:

I am not interested in running a night club for kids who can't afford the cover at I/O. My goal is to create a bridge between the artists, collectors, curators, and the museums in a more intellectual environment.

But you may not have heard about the Terminal 5 exhibition disaster up in New York. Tom Moody excerpted the October 7 article by Carol Vogel for the New York Times:

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has shut down an art exhibition in Terminal 5 of Kennedy Airport after a raucous opening-night party on Friday that left broken glass on the floor, graffiti on the walls and further destruction in its wake, the agency said yesterday.

How bad did it get? Pretty bad.

Besides smoking in the building and defacing the walls with graffiti, some guests broke a door leading to a runway, [Port Authority spokesman Pasquale] DiFulco said. Liquor was being sold at the party without a permit, he added, and Ms. Ward failed to maintain the space to "an acceptable level of cleanliness." Vomit and broken glass were on the terminal's floor, he said.

The Port Authority closed down the exhibition for good, which probably made the folks at JetBlue feel underwhelmed about the $100,000 they put into the show as its sponsor. A spokesman for JetBlue described the airline as "crushed" despite the fact that they had already gotten into an argument with curator Rachel K. Ward over a Vanessa Beecroft piece, which they excluded for reasons I can guess at (naked people) but not prove.

Brook and I were talking not all that long ago about how the openings have become parties, pure and simple. We have fun at them, but he sees more and more that people breeze by the art on display and return as quickly as possible to socializing (read: drinking).

Many people would not regard this as a problem. The opening parties create an atmosphere of excitement and fun around the art, they say. This nurtures the art community - the group of people connected by the fact that they value art.

I agree, but in my view the gallery has four responsibilities. One is commercial viability - it has to make enough money to justify everyone's effort. Another is aesthetic viability - the gallery must present art that acheives a high level of artistic success. Another is social viability - it has to create a buzz around the art and the space that will entice people through the doors. The fourth is intellectual viability - it has to nurture the reflective and analytical experience that reinforces the act of looking, and encourage arts writers to opine about it.

If the party people who attended Terminal 5 had trashed a hotel room, nobody would care except the staff and the cops. By trashing an art exhibition, though, they turned it into an intellectual failure (and inflicted heavy collateral damage on its commercial an aesthetic success). Cindric seems to want to create a more intellectual atmosphere at Rocket - in contrast to its previous opening parties that, say what you like about them, attracted big crowds (albeit a mix of serious art people and serious cutie-pies). A gallery must succeed at creating social viability, but above a certain level of energy, the party comes back to bite your butt.

The problem of people breezing by the art, the problem of people showing up for the drinks, music, and company, and the problem of trashing the joint lie on a continuum, in that order, of increasing social excess.

It's easy enough to refrain from hiring a deejay for the opening. Get rid of the alcohol? Well, alcohol is a great social (and financial!) lubricant, and we don't want the opening to be antisocial. Brook and I agree that we need an alternative to openings - something that feels social, but emphasizes looking. But what?

Comment

1.

shaolin soccer mom

October 18, 2004, 3:28 PM

You would think that all the free booze, music, and cuties would atract people whith no interest in art. But it just doesn't happen. Everyone I've ever seen at any opening is there first and foremost to look at art. They may not be there to buy (in fact, most of them are artists themselves), but they at least want to look.

Specific problems crop up. Rocket is too small a place for the crowds it has attacted; you can't even walk around, much less look at the art, because there are a million cute guys and girls in your way.

Dorsch needs AC. You can't bear the place, much less look at art, because it's too damn hot in there.

Steinbaum is kind of perfect, but the crowd she gets makes me uncomfortable, so I avoid the place.

Objex is admirably frank, going the culb route, and charging admission (I would guess, tho I could be wrong, that it's the type of patron they get that trashed the airport terminal). It's kind of admirable.

Recipe for better openings: More bass, more booze, more art pranks, more spray-painting the walls. More jeering bad art. More art for sale under $100 bucks. More shirtless guys with funny hats. More fragile sculptures that can be accidentally knocked over. More experimental installations (like when Brook hung stuff from the ceiling). More wet paint. Bring in the drug dealers. Set up sofas for them to operate from. Close at four in the morning instead of ten at night. Better lit streets so people can park safely. Faster, more bass. Bacardi mojitos. Vox greyhounds. Etc

2.

Spud McKenzie

October 18, 2004, 4:14 PM

I think the art reception/party is the best time to make art accessible and fun for everyone. Galleries in general can be intimidating and snooty.
For myself, if if was not for gallery nights and opening nights, I probably would not stop by the gallery on another day due to my own schedule.
Newsflash: Miami is a party town!

3.

oldpro

October 18, 2004, 6:14 PM

This is a lot of smoke about nothing. As Spud says, people want to party. If you want a party, you have a party. If you want to show art, you show art. If you want to do both at the same time you take the consequences without getting on your high horse.

Frankly most of the art shown at these things would make me turn to mood enhancers pretty quickly.

Soccermom: your prescription for a great opening sounds like one of the lower rings of Dante's Inferno,

4.

shaolin soccer mom

October 18, 2004, 9:16 PM

HEy.

That would be a good name for a discothue: Dante's Inferno.

5.

Jack

October 18, 2004, 9:25 PM

Franklin, I can't get worked up over this. If the party element is or becomes excessive, it's because the venue in question deliberately encourages or facilitates that, as has been the case at Rocket Projects. Also, if you run a gallery equivalent of Toys R' Us, why should the crowd take the work seriously, especially if they're given the more appealing alternative of partying? Sorry, but no sale.

6.

oldpro

October 18, 2004, 10:09 PM

Soccermom:

I'm afraid there are already lots of Dante's Inferno establishments, sports bars, strip clubs, swinger clubs, literary hangouts etc etc probably some discos too. "Lower Ring" or "Divine Comedy" might be less used, if you are thinking of opening something up.

7.

SSM

October 18, 2004, 11:43 PM

I'm glad you're offering to help, oldpro. I think we should get right on this, pronto. I figure it can be a nightclub with an art gallery theme. That's a rationalle for minimal decorations, and we could show GOOD art by local artists, so people have something to look at when they dance. If we do it in the design district, we can just open at ten, and everyone can go there when they get done with the gallery scene, and rave all night.

We'll make a killing: it's going to be great.

8.

mary agnes

October 19, 2004, 12:42 AM

art is sold and gets into museum shows and other significant venues in the context of personal relationships from what i have seen. . Both the dealer and the artist should reach out to people who have a real interest in the art to succeed at what their apparent task is. The discussion about parties is not especially to the point in my mind. I think if galleries and artists spent less time trying to be cool socially and more time cultivating people who make a difference to the career of the artist they might serve the artist better. And a lot of things are accomplished if you do that.

9.

Franklin

October 19, 2004, 2:02 AM

Well, this is interesting: the people who like the parties want to throw bigger, better, louder parties, and the people who don't care about the parties blow them off anyway. I guess I'm the only one with the problem.

10.

shaolin soccer mom

October 19, 2004, 4:52 AM

I understand the frustration, though. In what other human endevor do we supply people with free booze?

11.

eddie

October 19, 2004, 6:11 AM

frat parties, vegas, first communion

12.

denise

October 19, 2004, 8:57 AM

...and weddings.

what about cheese? where else do they give away free cheese? down here i haven't seen this at galleries so much; more at museums, occasionally. (i'm thinking of the carnegie international one year, when i was in undergrad--they had a special student reception one night, with tables filled with plates of fruit and cheese, but mostly cheese. they would refill the cheese plates with a seemingly endless supply of cheese cubes, which they would pour out of crates lined with garbage bags.)

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