A Comeback Kid
A few Fridays ago, Danny the Wonder Pony co-hosted a birthday party for Ivy Nicholson at CroBar.
Ms. Nicholson has recently returned to New York from Montana. She has new digs at Chelsea’s no-frills Hotel Allerton. She has a good friend in Vincent Potter, a stylist at the Robert Kree Salon, whose birthday gift was to reshape her bangs and frost her hair a honey-blond. The birthday was her 73rd.
Ms. Nicholson is a former Vogue model; she appeared in a few Andy Warhol films, including Couch. (Time magazine, 1965: “Such ‘underground’ films as Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures and Andy Warhol’s Couch feature transvestite orgies with masturbation and other frills …. ”)
Now she is making films herself. “I’m hoping,” Ms. Nicholson said, “that my movie is picked up by some producer and turned into a modern soap opera. Also, tomorrow we’re going to Massachusetts. I found a woman there who reminds me of Janis Joplin. She’s going to wear a wig. It’s a love scene where she’s trying to forget someone, because she gets into someone else’s soul—not sexual, just mental. Every time she puts herself in another man’s arms, he’s there and he’s dead. So she finally realizes she cannot forget him, that she’ll have to forgive him for trying to get into another woman’s soul.”
Her host, Mr. Pony, was also cantering on the comeback trail—although he was returning from a different era. He had been an iconic member of 80’s-era promoter-cum-murderer Michael Alig’s eccentric ensemble. Back then, he’d saddle up four nights a week, at $150 per gig. But a lot has changed: the Giuliani regime; the Limelight went dark.
That night, an attendant was overheard muttering, “This place sucks!”—but when a lady mounted Mr. Pony, the crowd oooh-ed. When he bucked, a sort of hunched-over hopping effect, they cheered. Mr. Pony then eased into his trademark gallop simulation, bending at an angle over a specialized stool and thrusting his muscled rump to the music.
“It felt like a real horse. I really felt like spanking him,” said Pam Grispell, an athletic, braided clubgoer. During her ride atop Mr. Pony on the dance floor, the outgoing 25-year-old had administered several slaps to her ride’s spandexed and gyrating hindquarters.
“There is no typical reaction,” gasped a very sweaty Mr. Pony between rides. (He only goes by his stage name—and “the Ponyman has no age.”) “Sometimes it takes a while for people to loosen up, but you can always tell the ones who are going to eventually want a ride.”
“It kind of feels like I just had sex,” said a blond 26-year-old Vassar graduate after peeling herself off the Wonder Saddle. “I’m a little weak in the knees.”
Some 20-odd years ago, while managing a dude ranch in the Catskills, Mr. Pony seized the opportunity to fashion a formfitting “babe magnet” out of Western-style horse accoutrements. Over time, his saddle evolved. His getup now includes self-adjusting bungee-cord stirrups, a synthetic bit, a thick layer of gelatin padding for his back, reins and a seat vibrator (which, he is quick to point out, has an on/off button).
“New York got really bland,” said Mr. Pony, who long ago relocated to Orange, N.J. There, for the last 10 years, he’s been the weekly entertainment at Tequila Joe’s. He augments that income with a steady flow of bachelorette parties and the odd children’s gig. “For the kids, I do silly. For the ladies, I do sexy.”
The past decade has had its moments, such as an appearance on Jerry Springer. But there have been lows as well. A broken ankle from a non-Pony-related accident put him out of commission for six months. And last year, a bachelorette party in Harlem was more than Mr. Pony’s back could bear. “When they would bring these girls up,” he said, “I thought they were joking. I was like, ‘Ha ha ha ha.’ But no, they weren’t joking. It was bad, man. These were some real Harlem Globetrotters, man. They destroyed my stool. Then I was holding onto a wooden table, and I went right through the table!”
Mr. Pony’s goal is to return to his former glory in the nightlife pasture, where his G-stringed buttocks were once synonymous with sublime times.
“I think New Yorkers are starting to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, we want the strange, we want the avant-garde,’” Mr. Pony said. “I think it might have something to do with wartime, you know—people want something a little less serious.”
Not too long ago, Katie Gardner had a vision as she lay sleeping. “I used to teach,” she said. She was sitting in a banquette in her soon-to-be-former restaurant, the West End, on Broadway by 114th Street. “I had this dream the other day that I was in this classroom, and the entire school was black except for me. And I was teaching these children—this was never a problem, not a problem. But then I had ‘parents night’ and I had all these parents in there, and I was the only white person.”
She took a bite of the spicy chicken enchilada before her and chewed meditatively on it.
“They were very hostile, as you can imagine—this was in the dream—and I looked at them and I said, ‘What is the problem here? What separates us here?’” She plonked her bare forearm down on the hard oak table. “‘This is my color,’” she said, and giggled. “‘This is your color. Does it really matter at all?’ It was so vividly ridiculous for people to be divided because I am this color and you’re that color. And it was a great dream.”
The dream was a nocturnal playback of the big question that Ms. Gardner, an athletic-looking woman of 59 with a degree from Columbia’s J-school, has been entertaining in her wakeful hours of late: What to do next in her life?
Ms. Gardner announced that she has sold the Columbia University area eatery that she and husband Jeff Spiegel have owned and operated since 1990. The restaurant has stood on the same ground and had the same name for over 90 years.
“When we came here, it literally was an empty space,” she said. It had been vacant for more than a year. “Whatever happened before we came, the West End as everybody knows it—or think they know it—no longer existed. There was nothing. There were no booths. There was no bar. There was no wall. There was nothing. And when we rebuilt it, we rebuilt it with the idea that we wanted to re-create the West End. So the idea for me and for my husband was that we wanted to create a place where people came in who’d been going to the West End for the last hundred years—” She surprised herself and shouted out again, “Literally, the last hundred years! They would walk in here and say, ‘Ah, I remember the West End’ and that we would elicit that kind of response, that people wouldn’t walk in and go, ‘Oh, God, it doesn’t exist anymore’—because when we came in, it didn’t make sense; it was gone.”
The spot is set to reincarnate yet again, this time into Havana Central, which is a chain. “We are scheduled to have the handover happen on Friday—this coming Friday,” Ms. Gardner said.
After that, Ms. Gardner and Mr. Spiegel will turn their attention to other pursuits. For Mr. Spiegel, this might mean a job at the Peace Corps, an organization with which he has former affiliation. And for Ms. Gardner, there’s that dream again.
She said she’s considering doing “something edgy” with the Girl Scouts, setting up councils in developing countries. And she’s thought of writing to Oprah Winfrey for advice and assistance, “because Oprah sets up these schools all over Africa.”
“I’m not sure they’re gonna go for it, but I have this vision,” said the mother of three, her blue eyes dancing. “You know, I can do this. I’m a teacher—I taught for many years. I’m an administrator. I’ve been a boss. What you do is, you go into countries in Africa, for example, or you got to Iraq, you go to Afghanistan, you go to places like that, and you set up Girl Scout councils in these places. Each council is a separate franchise—they can do what they want. So you could actually set up councils that are incredibly proactive—autonomous and proactive in that community. It would be so fuckin’ cool!”
Last week, Nylon celebrated its seventh anniversary at Marquee, an evening hosted by Lydia Hearst. The heiress/model posed with the mag’s latest issue blocking her face, to the objection of a photographer.
So what had everyone been doing seven years ago?
Heatherette designer Richie Rich was making T-shirts. “That’s how Heatherette came out of a wine bottle—1999 was a good year. I knew I would do something great, but I didn’t know what,” he said. He sat front and center with his boyfriend and the evening’s host.
“Lydia is like a sister; I love her like nobody else,” he said.
Michael Angelo, of Michael Angelo’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor in the meatpacking district, wouldn’t remember what happened seven years ago until he received his own answer.
“What color was Madonna’s hair?”
Uh … blonde? (Must. Not. Enrage. Stylist.) It was an especially sensitive topic, as he had been “painting my bedroom Ray of Light blue” in 1999.
Evan, a party straggler with serious pride in his South Williamsburg neighborhood, said that seven years ago, he was scrubbing toilets for models: “Yeah—lots of models.”
Joanna Angel, a Brooklynite, porn star and the newly anointed sex-advice columnist for Spin, had an unfortunate incident seven years ago involving 10 pills. “I was walking around this New Year’s party giving everyone a hug.” Promptly thereafter, she read Prozac Nation.
At midnight the open bar ended, bottle service resumed, and Marquee lifted its ropes to let regulars fill the cushy couches. The hipsters in their exodus wanted to return to Brooklyn, only to find that their beloved L train, shockingly, was also roped off.
On Monday afternoon, John Williams sat down in his backstage dressing room at the Juilliard School’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater. It was the second day of rehearsals for a Live from Lincoln Center performance, for which Mr. Williams was to conduct the Juilliard Orchestra. Broadcast time was six hours away.
Two young students, one with camera in hand, paused at his door. “We were wondering if we could possibly take a picture …, ” the girl said. Mr. Williams assumed a position. A flash. The student checked her camera’s memory: portraits of a furry friend on a shimmery duvet. But then up popped Mr. Williams’ picture.
“Always a little nervous at these things,” said the soft-spoken Mr. Williams, who gave the world, among countless compositions, that theme from Star Wars. “We have a fantastic student orchestra. Some of the material is new to them, and they’ve already mastered it, I think, in a day and a half of rehearsal.”
A collection of highly polished champagne buckets, empty mouths agape, rested on a shelf.
“The other thing I love about the presentation,” Mr. Williams continued, “is the diversity of it. We have Renée Fleming, who is just en fleur, you know, in her career.
“And it’s brilliant that it’s being televised— Live at Lincoln Center, which has a kind of sound to it, doesn’t it? It’s got a kind of nice, euphonic thing going there.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Fleming had nearly met disaster in the form of a major cable-news network’s camera. It fell on her shoulder during an interview, a Juilliard spokesperson said. The incident didn’t appear to dampen the soprano’s enthusiasm, though it did get her black blazer.
“I’m just honored to be a part of it, to be honest,” she said, meaning the gala, not the camera assault. “I was thinking this afternoon: ‘Of all the conservatories I could have attended, I feel so suddenly in an extraordinary way humbled by being a part of the tradition and the legacy that is Juilliard. Of course, when you’re young, you don’t think about that. When I was a student here—you’re so self-absorbed in thinking about your own journey.
“We, as singers, have time on our side,” she said. “We tend to develop later than instrumentalists, certainly than dancers and actors, so we have a little bit more time. But it’s still an arduous road. And ‘the voice,’ they say, is only 10 percent. The rest is elbow grease.”
Itzhak Perlman, the violin master, was zipping around on a motorized chair. “The event this afternoon was very, very festive, very nice,” he reported jovially. “I think it will be a terrific show.”
Mr. Perlman began his career at Juilliard in 1959, when the school was located uptown, on the current site of the Manhattan School of Music. What must the students today think of pursuing a career in what is said to be an always-shrinking field?
“Everybody has such a gloomy outlook for classical music, and I’m always very optimistic,” Mr. Perlman said. “My hope is for us to continue to nurture young talent, and to bring them to a situation where they can really contribute to the musical scene, to the arts scene and so on, and for the arts scene to continue to flourish. And for people to support it financially and politically as well—because sometimes politicians don’t see the importance of the arts, you know. They think it’s a luxury, but it’s not a luxury. It’s a part of our society; it’s an important part of our society. And without it, we are not as good.”
“There are good people here,” enthused a giddy, well-coifed flack. And wasn’t that Michael Milken? Fifteen minutes before the Contemporary Asian auction began, a dull roar of murmurs and ring tones echoed throughout the Sotheby’s auction chamber.
Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s senior curator for contemporary art, mounted the rostrum like a Teutonic throne. His sinewy body in the charcoal suit and pale blue tie, and the dangling forelock, all of it leaned forward, commanding the room to a hush.
Friday’s sale, in which India and Japan were represented but China predominated, was not another sale. It was more the opening bell for a very well-hyped—and, to some Western latecomers, an utterly new and alien—art market.
Mr. Meyer’s forelock snapped left and right with his torso; his arms, slicing left and right, looked something like Jane Fonda meets Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.
Whole lots sailed by, contested only by rival volleys between the phone-ins. They were direct lines to a new base of power in the collecting world. There is also a sense, as with the Asian families perched in the private booths overhead, of a foreign collecting bloc weighing in on the proceedings. “There are a lot of Asians here,” said an audience member.
Thirty-six lots were called before Mr. Meyer took a drink of water.
“Who are these people? Are they dealers?” asked someone on the floor. Well, some of the men, in various stages of disguise using dark sunglasses, looked better disposed to bid on warheads. A woman in a baby blue chubby fur and turquoise jewelry chewed gum, her jaw movements straining her skin taut.
Short, tanned and open-shirted, a vaguely California-louche man perfected his slouch in the front row. A blonde scissored down the aisle from the back to join him. His paddle whipped erect from his waist as the auction’s first big-name lot appeared, a Zhang Xiaogang painting entitled Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 4 (Yellow). The bid started at $50,000 and ended at $419,200. The next painting by Mr. Zhang went for $486,400. The blonde won one.
An hour later, a dizzying bid for the third Zhang piece (Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120) had the audience in a clamor. The $350,000 estimate became a distant memory. People upstairs in the private booths stood up, one woman with a phone dangling limply off her hip, as if in defeat.
“Go, go, go, guys,” said someone in the crowd softly. “They’re already a bargain.” The piece fetched $979,200, from a private collector.
The short, tanned Californian and the blonde fell into a quick embrace. How much had he just made in an hour?
In the afternoon, a new crowd assembled.
An Oliver Stone–Jim Nabors type walked out of a Tide ad with his bright red corduroy blazer. A dolled-up Asian woman, all highlights and fly shades enveloping her forehead, consulted the catalog pages like a flipbook. A bearded Japanese hipster—iPod buds in, wraparounds on, cravat noosed tightly—parked himself in the front row. The third and final auctioneer sported an impressive head of hair and the requisite Sotheby’s forelock.
More big-ticket items moved. That day, Yue Minjun’s Lions climbed to $564,800 from its $150,000 estimate. A Xu Bing installation fetched $408,000.
Asian contemporary is on the march. You can have your $2 million vase and your $4 million jar. Asia Week’s fairs and sales have long trafficked in the mainstays: ceramics, calligraphy, jewelry, landscape painting. On Thursday, Christie’s had rung up $15 million for Indian modern and contemporary works. On Friday, Sotheby’s—expecting $6 million to $8 million—netted $13 million.
The auctioneer, nearing the end, reported that Lot 209 had been printed upside down in the catalog. “But I imagine the buyer can hang it any way that pleases,” he said.